For Immediate Release
AFJ Report: Senate Rules Reform Opens the Door to More Professional Diversity Among Federal Judges
WASHINGTON - With his ability to get judges confirmed strengthened by Senate rules reform, President Obama is taking commendable steps to increase professional diversity on the federal bench, according to a report released today by Alliance for Justice.
“Now that only a simple majority vote is required to break filibusters on district and circuit court nominations, the time is ripe to fill a growing number of judicial vacancies with judges who are not only exceptionally well-qualified, but who also reflect the full diversity of the legal profession,” according to the report, which was released at a Capitol Hill forum scheduled to include keynote remarks by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. The report notes that all four judicial nominees announced by the White House on Jan. 16 “have professional backgrounds that are currently underrepresented among federal judges.”
“All of us are profoundly shaped by our personal experiences. Our view of the world is filtered through what we see and hear in our day-to-day lives,” said AFJ President Nan Aron. “Achieving justice and public faith in our justice system requires that the federal bench include judges who bring to their jobs a wide variety of experiences in both their personal and their professional lives.”
As the report notes:
When a judge decides whether a claim is “plausible,” or whether a witness is “credible,” or whether police officers, when they stopped and searched a pedestrian, acted “reasonably,” her determination is necessarily influenced by the nature of her work as a lawyer up to that point.
Before the Senate reformed its rules, rampant obstruction by Senate Republicans narrowed the field of potential candidates who could reasonably expect to be confirmed. As a result, up to now:
- Only 10—fewer than four percent—of the President’s judicial nominees have worked as lawyers at public interest organizations;
- Only 10 have significant experience representing workers in labor and employment disputes;
- Prosecutors outnumber public defenders (state or federal) by more than three to one;
- Only four out of 56 circuit nominees have worked as a public defender (state or federal), compared to 21 who have worked as prosecutors;
- Approximately 85 percent have been either corporate attorneys or prosecutors (and in some cases both).
The report urges lawyers with public interest backgrounds to seek out and apply for federal judgeships. The report has three other recommendations:
- Advocacy groups, lawyers, and others who work on judicial nominations should actively recruit judicial candidates with public interest and civil rights backgrounds;
- State judicial selection commissions and senators should encourage lawyers with professionally diverse backgrounds to apply for judicial vacancies, and, in recommending nominees, to consider whether a candidate’s experience would add needed professional diversity to the judiciary;
- President Obama should make professional diversity a priority, and work with home-state Senators to ensure that professional diversity improves across the entire federal judiciary.
“We look forward to our continued work with the president, senators, and other legal groups and advocates to increase diversity on the federal bench in all its forms,” Aron said.