Racial And Gender Diversity On State Courts - Judicialselection.us

Racial and Gender Diversity on State Courts


Racial and Gender Diversity on State Courts

AN AJS STUDY

By Malia Reddick, Michael J. Nelson, and Rachel Paine Caufield

The states with the highest percentag- es of women judges were Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Vermont, where approximately one third of judges were women. Contrary to the norm for most states, in five states— Hawaii, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, and Virginia—the percentages of minor- ity judges were higher than the percent- ages of women judges.

As a number of scholars have doc- umented, the presence of minority and women judges on state courts has increased gradually over time. Figure 1 (page 31) demonstrates this as well, indi- cating the percentages of minority and women judges in our dataset selected by decade. While only 4.0% of judges cho- sen in the 1970s and still serving in 2008 were racial or ethnic minorities, 12.6% of judges chosen since 2000 were minorities; and while only 16.0% of judges selected in the 1970s and still serving in 2008 were

Most Americans would agree that

racial and gender diversity is an important quality for our nation’s

courts. Whether judicial diversity is valued because it increases public confidence in the courts, provides decision-making power to formerly disenfranchised populations, or is essential to ensuring equal justice for all, citizens seem to prefer a judiciary that is diverse in its makeup.

There is less agreement regarding how best to achieve judicial diversity. To address this question, staff of the American Judicature Society undertook a project in 2008 to identify the institutional and political circumstances in which minor- ity and women judges are most likely to be selected to state courts. We com- piled a dataset that includes all appellate court judges and a ten percent sample of general-jurisdiction trial court judges who were serving in 2008. For each judge, we identified the year of selection, the judge’s race/ethnicity, and the judge’s gender.

We also included in the dataset a vari- ety of characteristics of the states in which these judges served, the courts on which they sat, and the ideology of those respon- sible for their selection. We identified the formal selection method for the court on which each judge served, the method by

 

which the judge was actually selected, the

legal qualifications for serving as a judge on that court, and the partisan affiliation of the governor or electorate responsible for selecting the judge.

We begin by providing an over- view of the extent of judicial diver- sity nationwide in 2008 and over time. We then explore whether minority and women judges were more likely to be selected in particular institutional and political contexts.

 

Judicial Diversity State-by-State and Over Time

Table 1 (page 30) displays the percentages of judges on appellate courts and gener- al-jurisdiction trial courts in each state who were racial or ethnic minorities and who were women. The highest percentage of minority judges, 65.1%, was found in Hawaii. The states with the next highest percentages were Louisiana, New York, and Texas, where minority judges comprised approximately one-fifth of the bench. Interestingly, at the time this data was collected, there were no minority judges serving on appellate or general-jurisdiction trial courts in six states—Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

 

women, 29.2% of judges selected in the

21st century were women.

 

Selection Methods and Judicial Diversity

There are six methods through which seats on state courts may be filled—mer- it selection, gubernatorial appointment, partisan election, nonpartisan elec- tion, legislative appointment, and court appointment. The question of whether some methods of selecting judges are more effective than others in diversify- ing state judiciaries is one that has been of interest to researchers, policy mak- ers, and selection reform advocates for decades. While some studies have found that appointive systems enhance judi- cial diversity, other studies have report- ed that elective systems produce more women and minority jurists. At the same time, several studies have found no link whatsoever between selection systems and diversity of the bench.

However, the majority of these stud- ies are based on the court’s formal method of selection and do not take into account the method by which judges were actually selected. Analysis of our data reinforces the importance of identifying actual selection methods, as

 

45% of judges serving in 2008 in states with partisan or nonpartisan elections were initially appointed to their seats.

By determining the method through which judges actually reach the bench, we are able to contribute to the debate over which selection systems produce a more diverse judiciary. Table 2 (page 31) provides a breakdown of the minor- ity and women judges serving on state courts in 2008 and the methods by which they initially attained their seats. The most common selection method for both minority and women members of state courts of last resort was merit selec-

tion, with 54.3% and

 

and to a lesser extent within, states in these legal qualifications. The most com- mon judicial qualifications relate to age, extent of legal experience, and residency, and we explore the relationship between these requirements and the racial and gender makeup of the bench. Table 3 (page 32) displays the percentages of minority, women, and all judges who served on courts with these requirements. Some states have minimum age requirements for judicial eligibility rang- ing from 25 to 35 years of age. As shown in Table 3, the age qualification may have disadvantaged women in attaining

high court seats.

while 65.9% of general-jurisdiction trial court judges served on courts with such an experience requirement, 80.4% of minority trial court judges served on these courts.

 

Malia Reddick is director of Research &

48.5%, respectively, having been cho- sen through a merit plan. On intermedi- ate appellate courts, more minority judg- es attained their seats through merit selection (40.8%) than through any other method, but partisan elections placed slightly more women on these courts (29.3%) than did other selection processes.

For general-juris- diction trial courts,

 

ON INTERMEDIATE APPELLATE COURTS, MORE MINORITY JUDGES ATTAINED THEIR SEATS THROUGH MERIT SELECTION, BUT PARTISAN ELECTIONS PLACED SLIGHTLY MORE WOMEN ON THESE COURTS.

 

While 34.7% of all judges served on courts of last resort in states with a minimum age requirement, only 28.2% of women judges served on such courts. An age qualification may have differentially affected minorities as well, though the disparities are small. Compared to all judges who served on state appel- late courts with an age  qualification,

 

 

Programs at the American Judicature Society. She is director of a two-year research project on judicial diversity; the results form the basis for this article. The project is aimed at preserv- ing and strengthening existing judicial merit selection systems and encouraging the expan- sion of merit selection to other jurisdictions.

She can be reached at mreddick@ajs.org.

Michael J. Nelson, a former research

a plurality of minority judges in our data- set (35.3%) were appointed by the gov- ernor without recommendations from a nominating commission, while more women reached the trial court bench via merit selection (30.2%) than through any other selection method. However, as these figures are based on a 10% random sample of trial court judges, we conducted tests to determine whether the differences across selection methods for trial court judges were statistically significant, and they were not.

Legal Qualifications and Judicial Diversity

Constitutional and statutory provisions define who is eligible to serve as a judge, and there is significant variation across,

 

a smaller percentage of minority judges served on courts of last resort (31.4% vs. 34.7%) but a larger percentage of minor- ity judges (30.0% vs. 26.1%) served on intermediate appellate courts.

In all states, judges of appellate courts and major trial courts are required either explicitly or implicitly to have a law degree. Some states go further and require judges to have been licensed to practice law, to be a member of the state bar, or to have served as a judge on another court for a minimum number of years. According to our analysis, legal-experience qualifications benefitted minority attorneys. While 58.5% of high court judges nationwide served in states that require a minimum number of years of legal experience, 68.6% of minority high court judges served in such states. And

 

assistant at the American Judicature Society,

is a graduate student in political science at Washington University in St. Louis. He can be reached at mjnelson@wustl.edu.

Rachel Paine Caufield is a professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. She is also a research fellow at the American Judicature Society. She can be reached at rcaufield@ajs.org.

 

Judges may be selected statewide or from within a judicial circuit or district, and within a single state, the geographic basis for selection may vary both across and within levels of courts. Statewide selection appears to have enhanced prospects for women but lim- ited opportunities for minorities. While 80.3% of judges of courts of last resort were selected on a statewide basis, a slightly higher percentage of women judges (83.5%) and a slightly lower percentage of minority judges (77.1%) were so selected.

 

Politics and Judicial Diversity

In addition to the legal requirements that dictate who may become a judge, the political environment at the time of appointment or election may influence the types of candidates who are likely to be selected. We examine whether governors and electorates of a particular

 

political party were more likely to select diverse judges.

Sixty-one percent of judges serving in 2008 were initially appointed to their seats by the governor, with or with- out input from a judicial nominating commission. Nationwide, Democratic governors appointed slightly higher per- centages of minority (14.7%) and women (27.9%) judges than did Republican governors (11.0% and 23.6%, respec- tively). The largest discrepancies between Democratic and Republican governors are found for minorities on courts of last resort (17.4% vs. 8.8%) and women on intermediate appellate courts (31.2% vs. 23.3%).

Thirty-three percent of judges serv- ing in 2008 were initially chosen in partisan or nonpartisan elections. We discovered some differences in the election of minority and women judges between states with Democratic-

 

majority and Republican-majority elec- torates. Higher percentages of women judges were selected for appellate courts in Democrat-dominated states than in Republican-dominated states (42.9%

and 44.9% vs. 27.8% and 32.5%). The reverse is true for general-jurisdiction trial courts, but the differences are sta- tistically insignificant. For minority judges, a higher percentage was elect- ed to intermediate appellate courts in states with a Democratic majority than in those with a Republican majority (16.3% vs. 11.0%).

 

Enhancing Judicial Diversity

This study has provided some valuable insights into characteristics of judicial selection systems that may enhance the diversity of the bench. First, minorities and women fared very well in states that used merit selection. Approximately half of all minority and women judges

 

TABLE 1: Racial and Gender Diversity on State Courts

 

State

Minority Judges

Women Judges

 

State

Minority Judges

Women Judges

 

State

Minority Judges

Women Judges

Alabama

7.4%

12.3%

Louisiana

20.6%

20.2%

Ohio

3.4%

23.1%

Alaska

2.1%

16.7%

Maine

0.0%

20.8%

Oklahoma

6.9%

18.8%

Arizona

11.9%

26.9%

Maryland

18.3%

31.3%

Oregon

0.5%

24.7%

Arkansas

10.2%

13.9%

Massachusetts

10.5%

34.2%

Pennsylvania

8.1%

27.2%

California

10.6%

28.2%

Michigan

15.2%

17.2%

Rhode Island

7.4%

29.6%

Colorado

10.5%

26.8%

Minnesota

6.1%

26.2%

South Carolina

6.7%

13.3%

Connecticut

15.2%

27.9%

Mississippi

15.7%

15.7%

South Dakota

0.0%

20.5%

Delaware

6.9%

17.2%

Missouri

16.4%

10.2%

Tennessee

6.0%

18.5%

Florida

10.5%

33.5%

Montana

0.0%

22.0%

Texas

19.8%

29.8%

Georgia

12.3%

16.8%

Nebraska

1.5%

13.2%

Utah

9.8%

17.1%

Hawaii

65.1%

34.9%

Nevada

8.5%

32.4%

Vermont

0.0%

31.8%

Idaho

2.1%

14.6%

New Hampshire

0.0%

25.9%

Virginia

10.9%

9.7%

Illinois

15.2%

22.3%

New Jersey

14.3%

25.0%

Washington

3.2%

28.6%

Indiana

6.9%

15.7%

New Mexico

16.2%

17.2%

West Virginia

2.8%

5.6%

Iowa

3.8%

13.6%

New York

20.5%

20.0%

Wisconsin

4.9%

15.9%

Kansas

2.7%

8.2%

North Carolina

14.5%

16.2%

Wyoming

0.0%

19.2%

Kentucky

0.6%

27.5%

North Dakota

2.1%

21.3%

 

 

 

 

Note: Data on minority judges is based on the ABA’s Directory of Minority Judges of the United States, 4th ed. (2008). Data on women judges was compiled by AJS; data for appellate courts was collected in 2008 and for general-jurisdiction trial courts in 2006. For a breakdown by court in each state, see Judicial Selection in the States: Diversity of the Bench, at http://www.judicialselection.us/judicial_selection/bench_diversity/index.cfm?state=.

 

on courts of last resort in 2008, and at least one-fourth of minority and women judges on lower courts, reached the bench through a merit selection process.

The legal requirements that define the pool of eligible judicial candidates affected prospects for minorities and women as well. Minorities were much more likely to obtain positions on courts of last resort and trial courts in states that require a minimum number of years of legal experience, while women were less successful in attaining high court seats in states with a minimum age qualification. Selection on a statewide basis differentially impacted minorities and women who served on courts of last resort. More women judges than average were selected from a statewide pool of candidates, while more minority judges

 

than the norm were chosen from a geo- graphic division within the state.

Gubernatorial and electoral politics

were also important determinants of judicial opportunities for minorities and women, with diverse candidates enjoying greater success in Democratic regimes. Democratic governors were more likely than Republican governors to appoint

minorities and women to the courts. Similarly, Democrat-dominated states showed a stronger tendency than did Republican-dominated states to elect women to appellate courts and minorities to intermediate courts of appeal.

 

These findings paint a fairly clear picture of the context in which racial and gender diversification of state high courts is most likely, and they pro- vide guidance for state policymakers who wish to enhance judicial diversity.

TABLE 2: Selection Methods and Diversity on State Courts

 

Courts of Last Resort

Intermediate Appellate Courts

General-Jurisdiction Trial Courts

Total

Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Merit Selection

54.3% (19)

40.8% (49)

25.5% (26)

36.6% (94)

Gubernatorial Appointment

31.4% (11)

22.5% (27)

35.3% (36)

28.8% (74)

Partisan Election

11.4% (4)

25.0% (30)

27.5% (28)

24.1% (62)

Nonpartisan Election

2.9% (1)

3.3% (4)

8.8% (9)

5.4% (14)

Legislative Appointment

0.8% (1)

2.0% (2)

1.2% (3)

Court Appointment

7.5% (9)

1.0% (1)

3.9% (10)

Total

10.3% (35)

12.6% (120)

11.1% (102)

11.6% (257)

Women

Merit Selection

48.5% (50)

27.5% (77)

30.2% (60)

32.1% (187)

Gubernatorial Appointment

17.5% (18)

28.6% (80)

28.1% (56)

26.5% (154)

Partisan Election

19.4% (20)

29.3% (82)

24.1% (48)

25.8% (150)

Nonpartisan Election

 




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