Diversity on the Bench

By Schiavoni, Sara | Judicature, May/June 2005 | Go to article overview

Diversity on the Bench


Schiavoni, Sara, Judicature


Continuing the trend of the first two years of the Bush administration, there was a modest increase in bench diversification during the 108th Congress. As shown in Table 1, the percentage of nontraditional judges in active service increased by 8.7 percent, as compared to the 6.7 percent increase during the 107th Congress. Hispanics -whose representation increased by well over one-fourth-were the big winners, and women now occupy nearly a quarter of all judgeships. The representation of Asian Americans remained unchanged at less than 1 percent. Native Americans have not been represented in the federal judiciary since 2001. While the increase for African Americans was marginal, this category of nontraditional judges remains closest to approximating its representation in the general population.1

Examining the courts of appeals separately, the only groups whose representation increased were women and Hispanics.2 Each of the geographic circuits now has a sitting female judge. All but the First and Eighth Circuits have more than one woman, with the Ninth Circuit having the most at eight.3 The First and Tenth Circuits have yet to seat an African American. The Fourth, Sixth, and D.C. circuit courts have two African Americans, and the remainder have one. While the number of Hispanics increased over the course of the 108th Congress, the increase occurred on courts where Hispanic judges were already seated. However, the Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Eleventh, and D.C. circuit courts have never had a Hispanic judge. Predictably (based on demographics), the Ninth has the most with four followed by the Fifth with three. When Judge Atsushi Wallace Tashima took senior status on June 30, 2004, the appellate bench lost its only Asian American jurist. No Native American has ever served at this court level.

While significant diversity gains occurred on the district courts, they were enjoyed primarily by women and in particular Hispanics.4 African American representation increased by two seats, Asian American by one, and Native American not at all. Eight states have never had a nontraditional district judge: Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. 5 Focusing on active judges, 12 states are without female representation on the district bench, 20 are without an African American, and 36 without a Hispanic. Asian Americans have sat only on the district courts for California, Hawaii, and New York, with Native American representation occurring only in Oklahoma.6

Table 2 aggregates district courts by circuit, and lists the percentage of women in each district. It also compares the percentage of African Americans and Hispanics to the percentage of each group in the circuit's general population.7 Women have the highest presence on district courts within the second Circuit, and the lowest within the First and Fourth Circuits. …

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