Rep. Johnson Chairs IP Subcommittee Hearing on The Importance of a Diverse Federal Judiciary

March 25, 2021
Press Release
House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet Hearing on “The Importance of a Diverse Federal Judiciary”
The Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet held a hearing that explored the benefits of a diverse judiciary that reflects the composition of American society and the current status of the diversity of the federal judiciary, including consideration of diversity of judges’ demographics, education, and professional backgrounds.
 
Watch here: https://judiciary.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=4486
 
Panel I
  • The Honorable Carlton W. Reeves, District Judge United States District Court, Southern District of Mississippi
  • The Honorable Frank J. Bailey, Bankruptcy Judge, United States Bankruptcy Court District of Massachusetts
  • The Honorable James C. Ho, Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
  • The Honorable Edward M. Chen, District Judge, United States District Court, Northern District of California
Panel II
  • The Honorable Bernice B. Donald, Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
  • Maya Sen, Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Peter N. Kirsanow, Partner, Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP and Commissioner, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
  • Stacy Hawkins, Professor of Law, Rutgers Law School
Chairman Johnson's Opening Statement:
 
I often underscore the judiciary’s vital role in our great democracy.  The courts are tasked with the sacred duty of administering justice and upholding the rule of law.  And they must do so fairly and impartially.  
 
Yet these duties are only part of the equation that ensures that the judicial system runs smoothly.  The public must also be confident that the system is as fair, impartial, and just as it pledges to be.  Today, we explore an important part of ensuring the public’s confidence in the courts and creating an equitable judiciary: the diversity of the federal bench. 
 
By many metrics, today’s judiciary is notably nondiverse and fails to reflect the communities it serves.  Approximately three-fourths of Article III judges identify as white, while about two-thirds of Article III judges are women, leaving women and people of color largely underrepresented on the bench.  
 
Some circuit-level examples highlight this striking disproportionality.  The Eleventh Circuit, for example, encompasses Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, states that have been historically rich with a diverse population, and that today includes a population that is roughly half people of color.  Eighty percent of the Eleventh Circuit’s active judges are white.  Just two circuit judges are people of color.  
 
And today we will hear from the Honorable Bernice Donald of the Sixth Circuit, which includes Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan, states that also have a rich and diverse history.  Somehow, in 2021, Judge Donald remains the first and only Black woman to serve on that circuit.  
 
Other circuits tell a similar story.  It is staggering that in today’s age, there are so few opportunities for underrepresented communities to see themselves reflected on the bench.   
 
We are, of course, in a better place than we were decades ago.  Courts were even more overwhelmingly white, and even more overwhelmingly male.  But the incremental progress we have since made is not a success story.  Efforts to further diversify the bench have even regressed in recent years, and as today’s numbers show on their face, there is a lot more work to be done. 
 
Diversity beyond demographic metrics also matters.  Currently, judges’ backgrounds tilt toward those with prosecutorial experience, with educational credentials that lean toward a limited set of law schools.  We are left without the value of wide-ranging professional and educational experiences that would enhance our nation’s courtrooms.     
 
Why does this matter?  A diverse judiciary is vital to maintaining the public’s confidence in the courts.  The public perceives a judiciary that reflects a cross-section of its community as fairer, with the potential to better understand their realities.  
 
Judicial decisionmaking is also enhanced when the bench is diverse.  A variety of narratives and perspectives must be considered and weighed, and no one set of values can dominate.  As one judge once put it, “I think everybody is applying the same law, but you may be able to see more angles. The more angles, the better the decision.”
 
This is the first time, at least in recent history, that the Committee has focused squarely on the issue of a diverse federal judiciary.  Today’s esteemed witnesses bring important perspectives on the vital role diversity plays, and I look forward to having a productive dialogue.
 
Watch here: https://judiciary.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=4486
 
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