RELEASE: CAP Report Highlights Troubling Lack of Diversity Among Federal Judges

Washington, D.C. — A new report from the Center for American Progress finds a troubling lack of diversity among the nation’s federal appeals court and district court judges and points out some of the most extreme examples around the country.

The report, based on official data from late last year, builds on a CAP study from last year that examined the lack of female judges, judges of color, and judges self-identifying as LGBTQ, as well as provided recommendations for improving diversity on the bench. The new report contains even more details, specifically on the demographic compositions of each federal circuit and district court throughout the country.

“The report’s findings paint a bleak picture of demographic representation across the lower federal courts,” said Danielle Root, associate director of voting rights and access to justice on the Democracy and Government Reform team at CAP and an author of the report. “Unfortunately, the judiciary’s diversity crisis leaves litigants and our justice system vulnerable. When deciding cases that affect historically underrepresented groups, federal judges who do not belong to such groups may have difficulty recognizing and contextualizing unique concerns or hardships experienced by those whose freedom or rights are being infringed upon, which can lead to miscarriages of justice.”

Among the findings as of November 2019:

Women

  • Female judges do not comprise a majority on any of the nation’s 13 federal appeals courts.
  • 11 percent of federal district courts have no actively serving female judges.
  • Women make up at least half of the actively serving judges on less than 20 percent of all federal district courts.

People of color

  • Although people of color comprise roughly 40 percent of the U.S. general population, they make up just 23 percent of active judges on federal appeals courts.
  • Five circuit courts have no actively serving Hispanic judges on the bench.
  • More than 70 percent of all federal district courts have no Hispanic judges serving on them.
  • More than one-third of all federal district courts entirely comprise white judges and have no judges of color serving on them.
  • Half of all federal district courts have no African Americans actively serving on them.

Women of color

  • Only two appeals courts—the 9th Circuit and D.C. Circuit—have more than one woman of color serving as either a sitting or active judge.
  • 60 percent of all district courts have no women of color sitting or actively serving on them at all.

Judges who self-identify as LGBTQ

  • 90 percent of district courts have no judges who self-identify as LGBTQ.

Related resource:

Read the report: “Examining the Demographic Compositions of U.S. Circuit and District Courts” by CAP’s Democracy and Government Reform Team

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at  or 202-478-6327.