Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Judicial Diversity Essentially Flatlines in California

This is from a forthcoming report on judicial diversity from the California state bar's council on access and fairness that I worked on with other council members during my term on the council:

The most recent statistics on California's judiciary continue to show a significant disparity between what the people of California look like and what the judiciary looks like -- despite reflecting some improvement in overall numbers of diverse judges . . . [J]udicial appointment data from the Governor's office for the year 2008 shows that the cumulative percentage of Asian-American (6.3%), African-American (6.7%) and Latino/a (10.1%) judges appointed is now greater than the percentage of lawyers from those communities (5.3,%1.7% and 3.8% respectively) and the percentage of women judges appointed (33.6) is nearly equal to the number of women lawyers in California (34%) . . . However, overall,the bench in California is no more appreciably diverse today than it was three years ago when the data [on minority and women judges] was first collected.

The reasons for what is essentially a flatline are multi-fold. First, many women and judges of color have retired, and their seats have not been filled with judges from the same ethnic or gender group. Second, the California bench itself has increased by 128 seats in the past three years, growing from 1,610 authorized judgeships in 2006, to 1, 738 judicial seats as of December 31, 2008.

Furthermore, a comparison between the percentage of minority and women judges to their numbers in the population as a while still shows a disturbing level of underrepresentation in some cases. For example, while Latinos make up 32.5% of the population, according to the 2000 census, they are only 6.5% of the current judiciary, even taking into account the Governor's appointments. Similarly, women are 50.2% of the population but only 26.6% of the judiciary. These numbers . . . indicate that the process of diversifying the judiciary continues to be a long-term journey, and not yet a destination.

Elsewhere, the report quotes retired judge and former president of the ABA, Dennis Archer who observed: "When you recognize that, in the United States, it is the ability to petition our courts for fairness that keeps people from seeking justice in the streets, then you understand that diversity in the legal profession is critical for democracy to survive." Juxtaposed against this observation is a statement in a report from the Administrative Office of the Courts -- the administrative arm of the California judiciary -- that "It is notable and a cause for substantial concern that the majority of every major ethnic group perceive 'worse results' in outcomes for African-Americans, low-income people, and non-English speakers."