League of Women Voters Project Focuses on Judicial Diversity

By Arguedas, Zaida; Ward, David | Judicature, March/April 2010 | Go to article overview
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League of Women Voters Project Focuses on Judicial Diversity

Arguedas, Zaida, Ward, David, Judicature

For more than 90 years, the League of Women Voters has worked to improve our systems of government and influence public policies through citizen education and advocacy. From 2001 to 2009. its program, "Safeguarding U.S. Democracy: Promoting Fair and Impartial Courts," sought to increase citizen understanding of the importance of our nation's system of separation of powers. Through this program, the League built a critical mass of informed citizens who are prepared to defend the merits of a fair and impartial judiciary, using various educational activities and programs. During the 2008 presidential election, the League organized approximately 50 "judiciary-related" events in 35 states. It held state supreme court candidate forums, created and distributed more than one million voter guides, and coordinated civic education efforts in schools and universities across the country.

Diversity, in all its forms, has been a common thread throughout all of the League's work. It has consistently valued more diverse representation in government and more diverse thought in policy-making processes. With a new administration in the White House, the changing expectations of 21st century citizens, and an increasingly diverse U.S. population, the League believes the time is ripe to bring to the forefront opportunities for enhancing diversity within our systems of government.

President Obama's nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court engaged the country in a rich and necessary discussion about the merits of a diverse judiciary. Should the Court's composition ultimately reflect the population of the United States? The results of this nomination are testing the nation in the short term, but larger questions about the importance of diversity within all levels of the U.S. judiciary still linger.

With this in mind, the League of Women Voters, in 2009, applied for and was awarded a two-year grant from the Transparency and Integrity Fund of the Open Society Institute to promote fair and impartial courts with a specific focus on the importance of diversity - ethnic, racial, gender and other - in state judiciaries. We launched this initiative in the state of Kansas. In cooperation with a broad-based coalition of partners, every League in Kansas is developing and implementing strategies for education and advocacy. They are sponsoring community forums, town hall meetings, events at local law schools, and meetings with appointed and elected officials.

Commenting on the grant award, Mary Wilson, President of the League of Women Voters of the United States, stated: "...[we] believe that diversi tv in our courts is crucial, not only because different viewpoints make for a more robust jurisprudence, but because it will help to legitimize our justice system in the eyes of an ever-diversifying public."

The "Quest for a More Diverse Judiciary in Kansas" was officially launched on October 17, 2009, in Topeka. More than 100 attendees discussed why a more diverse judiciary is important in Kansas. The keynote speaker was the Honorable Rebecca Love Kourlis, Executive Director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.

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