Clinton and the Federal Courts

By Cunningham, Kitty | Black Enterprise, April 1993 | Go to article overview

Clinton and the Federal Courts


Cunningham, Kitty, Black Enterprise


President Bill Clinton has a chance to diversify the federal courts for the 21st century. At present, there are more than 100 judgeship vacancies in these courts. And civil rights advocates say that the new composition should include an African-American view of equal justice. Civil rights advocates are pushing President Clinton to nominate more black judges or - at the very least - judges likely to rule in favor of minorities on the crucial issues of employment, housing, education and voting rights.

These lobbyists argue that racial diversity is the answer to a legal system that routinely discriminates against minorities.

Wade Henderson, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau, believes President Clinton can reverse a dangerous trend of ignoring other legal voices. "There is an incredible absence of African-Americans in key federal courts in this country," he says.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Oklahoma, and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes North Carolina and Virginia, have never had a black judge. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Mississippi, also has no African-American judges. However, Fred L. Banks, a Mississippi Supreme Court Justice, is being mentioned as a potential nominee.

Banks says the absence of blacks at this level is particularly ominous, since "99% of federal cases don't go beyond the federal court of appeals."

Julius Chambers, the former NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund executive director, concurs: "There is a need for appointments of people to the bench who are empathetic to the way minorities, women and other disadvantaged folks have been treated." Clinton has heard the arguments. Last year, in a campaign speech before the National Bar Association (NBA), which represents black lawyers, he vowed to be fair in his selections.

The anticipation of more moderate federal court appointments underscores the seriousness of the issues. …

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