Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Federal Bench Needs More Professional Diversity, CAP Analysis Finds
Press Release

RELEASE: Federal Bench Needs More Professional Diversity, CAP Analysis Finds

Washington, D.C. — As the country reckons with systemic racial injustice, a new column from the Center for American Progress highlights the lack of professional diversity among the nation’s federal judges. The column also points to the need for more judicial nominees with backgrounds representing underserved populations and marginalized communities.

The column finds that only 1 percent of all federal appellate judges spent most of their careers as public defenders or legal aid attorneys. And while some appellate judges have engaged in civil rights-focused work while in settings such as law schools, out of the current sitting appellate judges, not one spent the majority of their career at a nonprofit civil rights organization, as Justice Thurgood Marshall did with the NAACP.

“We need more judges who have spent the majority of their careers practicing within settings squarely focused on advocating for those communities most in need,” said Maggie Jo Buchanan, director of Legal Progress at CAP and author of the column. “The expertise and insights into the law that these attorneys could bring to the bench as judges are sorely missing.”

Based on data compiled by the Federal Judicial Center, only one appellate judge, Judge Richard Paez on the 9th Circuit, spent the bulk of his career in legal aid, and only three appellate judges have spent most of their careers as federal or state public defenders.

Most judges on the appellate bench have legal expertise that was predominantly gained through the lens of advancing the interest of businesses. Having judges with more diverse professional backgrounds would help improve the quality of legal opinions and depth of American jurisprudence, the column finds.

Read the column: “The Startling Lack of Professional Diversity Among Federal Judges” by Maggie Jo Buchanan.

For more information or to talk to an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at shananel@americanprogress.org or 202-478-6327.