Most US federal court judges still white men, but demographics changing: report

[JURIST] As Justice Sonia Sotomayor [JURIST news archive] takes a seat on the US Supreme Court - the first Hispanic and only the third woman to do so - the federal judiciary as a whole continues to be heavily dominated by white males, according to a new report [text, PDF] released by the Brookings Institution [think tank website]. As of early August 2009, 70 percent of federal judges were white men, 15 percent were white women, 10 percent were minority (African-American and Hispanic) males, and 3 percent were minority females. According to the report, however, recent appointees have included proportionately fewer white males and, perhaps in a related trend, fewer private practitioners. The trend has been toward appointing district judges from previously sitting judges and then appointing circuit court judges from the ranks of district judges. The report concludes:


Most would agree with the modest proposition that, all things being equal, the federal judiciary should look more or less like the population it serves as to gender, race, and ethnicity — or at least look more or less like the realistic pool of potential judges. Over the last thirty years, the face of the judiciary has changed, although it hardly mirrors the general population and probably not the applicant pool. And it shows different faces in different parts of the country. In any event, there’s little reason to doubt the changes will continue, regardless of the party in the White House.

Whether the change in district judges’ vocational background will or should continue is a more difficult question. For one thing, as an empirical matter, there is scant evidence on whether or not they judge differently.

Sotomayor was sworn in earlier this month after debate [JURIST reports] by the US Senate, much of which focused on her infamous "wise Latina" remark rather than he judicial record. Through the confirmation hearings, Sotomayor maintained [JURIST report] that she decides cases based only on precedent, saying that she does "not believe that any ethnic, racial, or gender group has an advantage in sound judgment."

 

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