In a new article in the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin wrote about President Obama's judicial legacy. Among other things, the president discussed the importance of diversity on the federal bench:
Obama's judicial nominees look different from their predecessors. In an interview in the Oval Office, the President told me, "I think there are some particular groups that historically have been underrepresented—like Latinos and Asian-Americans—that represent a larger and larger portion of the population. And so for them to be able to see folks in robes that look like them is going to be important. When I came into office, I think there was one openly gay judge who had been appointed. We've appointed ten."
To bring that point home, the White House has released a newly updated and detailed infographic on creating a judicial pool that resembles the nation it serves. Here are just a few accomplishments it covers:
- 42% of Obama's confirmed judges have been women (higher than George W. Bush's 22% and Bill Clinton's 29%)
- Obama has put more African American women on the federal bench than any other president
- Obama has put more Latinos on the federal bench than any other president
- Obama has put more Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders on the federal bench than the previous 43 presidents combined
- Obama has had 10 openly gay lesbian or gay nominees confirmed, up from one previously (a Clinton nominee)
- Obama has named the nation's first Native American woman federal judge
As important as it is to have a bench that looks like the people it serves, it is also important to have judges with a wide range of experiential and professional diversity. That is one way to ensure that our nation's judges understand the power of the court in protecting every American's rights and liberties.
The infographic states that 64% of President Obama's circuit court judges have served on the board of an indigent legal services or other public interest organization. It also notes that Obama nominees James Wynn (Fourth Circuit), Bernice Donald (Sixth Circuit), Jane Kelly (Eighth Circuit), and Robert Wilkins (D.C. Circuit) are the first judges on their circuits with experience as a public defender.
Just this weekend, America saw what happens when you don't have enough judges who are committed to protecting everyday Americans' constitutional rights. Saturday morning, a divided Supreme Court allowed Texas to enforce its strict voter ID law during this year's election – even though a federal judge had found that the law was unconstitutional and was intended to make it harder for African Americans and Latinos to vote. The Roberts Court ruled that Texas can enforce this law while it appeals the case, which means targeted Americans will be disenfranchised exactly as intended. Justice Ginsburg wrote a powerful and persuasive dissent, and she was joined by both of President Obama's Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
No wonder that Senate Republicans have been so dedicated to obstructing President Obama's judicial nominees. Regardless of who controls the Senate during the next two years, it will be critically important to confirm quality judges who look like America and who respect the constitutional and legal rights that protect every American.