Rep. Johnson Chairs Part 2 in a Set of Hearings on The Importance of a Diverse Federal Judiciary

July 13, 2021
Press Release

This week, Congressman Hank Johnson (GA-04), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, held a hearing titled, “The Importance of a Diverse Federal Judiciary, Part 2: The Selection and Confirmation Process.”

This hearing builds on the March 25, 2021 hearing by exploring the challenges of creating a federal judiciary that reflects the diversity of the communities it serves—namely, addressing the systemic issues that may be at play in attracting and promoting candidates from diverse demographic, professional, and educational backgrounds throughout the selection and confirmation process.

Hearing witness included:

Ms. Jennifer C. Braceras, Director, Independent Women’s Law Center

Ms. Elia Diaz-Yaeger, National President, Hispanic National Bar Association

The Honorable Monica M. Marquez, Associate Justice, Colorado Supreme Court

The Honorable Anne K. McKeig, Associate Justice, Minnesota Supreme Court

The Honorable Michael J. McShane, District Judge, United States District Court, District of Oregon

The Honorable Richard E. Myers II, Chief District Judge, United States District Court, Eastern District of North Carolina

Mr. Ian Warner, Co-Chair, Judicial Merit Selection Committee for the Western District of Washington

 

You can watch the hearing here: https://judiciary.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=4631

 

Chairman Johnson's Opening Statement:

Welcome to today’s hearing. Today this subcommittee continues its discussion on an issue that impacts all Americans: diversity within the federal judiciary.  This past March, in our first hearing on this topic, we discussed why judicial diversity is important. Witnesses explained how judicial diversity, both personal and professional, is essential to preserving public confidence and trust in our judicial system, protecting the rule of law, enhancing the quality of judicial decision-making, and making sure that exceptional lawyers who aspire public service know that this path is open to all. 

Today’s hearing considers how we can achieve those goals by examining a critical, but often unexamined, part of the pathway to becoming a judge—namely, how a highly qualified lawyer’s name gets into the pool of candidates from whom the President will ultimately select a nominee. 

As we will hear today, the process has varied widely across the country and over time, often dependent on the involvement of the home-state Senators where the judicial vacancy has opened, in addition to the President.  I hope to learn more today about how we can ensure that highly qualified lawyers with a wide range of backgrounds and legal experience are able to participate in the judicial selection process.  

There has been progress on this front. Just seven months into his first year in office, President Biden has nominated a historic, diverse slate of experienced lawyers representing with a broad array of professional legal backgrounds—including work as public defenders, prosecutors, labor lawyers, civil rights lawyers, Indian law practitioners, immigration lawyers, commercial litigators, clerks, academics, and state and federal judges.

Their personal backgrounds are just as varied, from a retired Army captain who deployed twice to Iraq who also happens to be the first Muslim ever appointed to a federal judgeship, to a state court judge who left his complex litigation practice to open his own practice specializing in immigration law in order to serve the community he grew up in.

And yet, there is much more work to be done.

One only need look at the current composition of our courts to see that, for highly qualified lawyers who don’t fit a certain profile, the path to the federal bench can seem as narrow as a tightrope.  Female and minority judges are still sorely underrepresented on a federal bench dominated by former prosecutors and corporate law firm partners from the most expensive law schools in the country.  The lack of diversity is especially stark among bankruptcy and magistrate judges, who together handle the vast majority of the federal docket. 

The upshot is this: If you are a plaintiff or criminal defendant, you could very well look at the federal judiciary, taken as a whole, and wonder if you will get a fair shot.  If you are a litigator or criminal law practitioner, you might wonder how you will be heard.  And if you are an extraordinary lawyer who might want to be a federal judge, you might wonder if you would belong.

These problems can seem daunting, but a growing body of best practices from state and federal judicial selection processes suggest that there are some straightforward steps we can take in the right direction.  The witnesses for today’s hearing bring with them unique knowledge and experience regarding the less visible but still critical parts of our judicial selection process.  I look forward to hearing from them today as we move forward with this discussion in how best to address this important issue.  

You can watch Part 1 (March 25 hearing) on this subject here: https://judiciary.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=4486

 

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