People For the American Way

Pew Report: With GOP Presidents, We Get Fewer Judges of Color

The Pew Research Center has released a new report (“More minority federal judges have been appointed under Democratic than Republican presidents”) examining the presence of people of color serving as judges in our nation’s federal judiciary.  Their study’s conclusion, apparent from the title, quantifies what many Americans probably already suspected: Democratic presidents have done more to increase judicial diversity than have GOP presidents.

Pew’s report shows that:

The number of minorities named to the federal courts has increased faster under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents. From 1945 to today – a period in which Republicans and Democrats have each occupied the White House for a total of 36 years – Democratic presidents have appointed three times as many black judges as their Republican counterparts (162 vs. 49). Democrats have also named more Hispanic judges to the federal bench (73 vs. 51).

Pew’s analysis also indicates that President Obama has put more Asian Americans on the federal bench than all his predecessors combined:

Before 2009, Republicans had appointed 10 Asian judges, while Democrats appointed six. During Obama’s presidency the number of Asian federal judges greatly increased: About half (17) of the 33 Asian American judges to ever serve on the federal bench were appointed by Obama.

As we have written before in discussing why it is important to have a judiciary that looks like America:

For much of our nation's history, judges were uniformly white men. When women argued for equality under the law, they were repudiated with sexist arguments that only men could have come up with. African Americans were told that separate can be equal. Native Americans were told that they never really owned the land they had been on for centuries, but were only in temporary possession of it until Europeans arrived.

A judiciary that looks nothing like America is far less likely to understand how the law affects other people, a misunderstanding that has often led to great injustice. As Republicans exacerbate judicial emergencies, their obstruction is preventing us from having a judiciary that looks more like America.

We see this at all levels, including at the Supreme Court.  Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in the Schuette affirmative action case and her condemnation of a prosecutor’s attempt to substitute racial stereotype for evidence are great examples.  At the Obergefell oral arguments, when Justice Scalia suggested that a ruling for same-sex couples could force anti-gay clergy to conduct marriages against their religious beliefs, Justice Kagan had to inform him what Jewish Americans already know: that many rabbis refuse to conduct marriages between Jews and non-Jews without raising any constitutional problem.

Diversity brings people with more varied life experiences to our courtrooms, and that helps judges make better decisions.  And when Senate Republicans engage in record obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominees, the result is a less diverse federal bench.