Improving Judicial Diversity

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Monique Chase & Emma Greenman, Improving Judicial Diversity, in Women and the Law (Jane Campbell Moriarty ed., 2009).

Abstract:  The United States is more diverse than ever, but its state judges are not. While we recognize that citizens are entitled to a jury of their peers who will be drawn from a pool that reflects the surrounding community, Americans who enter the courtroom often face a predictable presence on the bench: a white male. This is the case despite increasing diversity within law school populations and within state bars across the country. Most of the legal disputes adjudicated in America are heard in state courts. As such, they must serve a broad range of constituencies and an increasingly diverse public. So why are state judiciaries consistently less diverse than the communities they serve? Unfortunately, studies show that both merit selection systems and judicial elections are equally challenged when it comes to creating diversity. Today, white males are overrepresented on state appellate benches by a margin of nearly two-to-one. Almost every other demographic group is underrepresented when compared to their share of the nation’s population. There is also evidence that the number of black male judges is actually decreasing (one study found that there were proportionately fewer black male state appellate judges in 1999 than there were in 1985). There are still fewer female judges than male, despite the fact that the majority of today’s law students are female, as are approximately half of all recent law degree recipients. This pattern is most prevalent in states’ highest courts, where women have historically been almost completely absent.

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