Washington, D.C. — A new report released today by the Center for American Progress argues that the lack of diversity among the judges who sit on our nation’s courts is hindering fairness, and the perception of fairness, in our judiciary. Disparities in the re-election rates for elected judges of color raise alarming questions about how judicial elections affect diversity on the bench, a problem that will only become more pronounced as demographic shifts continue their trends.
The report aims to add to the small amount of research on judicial diversity—specifically, where the judiciary intersects with the political process through judicial elections—and offers recommendations for reforms that could help foster diversity on the bench, such as public financing for judicial campaigns and programs that would expand the pipeline of diverse lawyers who could become judges.
“The role of the federal judiciary and its decisions are often examined, but far less focus and study are directed to the role of state courts and their impact and influence on our lives, and this report aims to change that reality,” said Michele L. Jawando, Vice President of Legal Progress at the Center and co-author of the report. “Our courts are supposed to be fair arbiters of justice for all, and our report raises serious concerns about the influence of money in politics—specifically, in judicial elections—and the effects of that influence in inhibiting diversity in our courts.”
In many states, diverse justices were appointed to the bench, only to lose their seats in the next election. This report examines one of the myriad reasons for the discrepancies by looking at how judicial elections and the rising costs of judicial campaigns keep individuals of color off the bench. For example, since 2000, white incumbents have had a 90 percent re-election rate, compared with 80 percent for black justices and a mere 66 percent for Latino justices. It also examines how that glaring lack of diversity calls into question the overall fairness of our justice system.
“Given the country’s demographic shifts and the important issues that come before state courts—such as the rights to vote and to a decent education, family disputes, and the vast majority of criminal cases—who sits on these courts matters,” said Billy Corriher, Director of Research for Legal Progress and co-author of the report. “While we expect our courts and our judges to be fair, we should also expect our judiciary to reflect the communities it serves.”
Access the report, “More Money, More Problems: Fleeting Victories for Diversity on the Bench” by Michele L. Jawando and Billy Corriher, here.
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