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Why Professional Diversity on the Bench is Important

President Biden has displayed an incredible commitment to diversifying the federal judiciary. As President, he has nominated an unprecedented number of women and people of color and sought to install judges of diverse professional backgrounds. Some of his nominees include Nina Morrison, an Innocence Project attorney who’s worked to end the death penalty, Dale Ho, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's voting rights project, and Eunice Lee, a lifelong New York City public defender. Biden’s pick for the Supreme Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, would not only be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, she’d also be the first public defender and the first justice with substantial criminal defense experience since Justice Thurgood Marshall. 

These efforts by President Biden are not only historic, but desperately needed. Diversity in the judiciary is essential to ensuring all experiences and viewpoints are considered in federal rulings. Historically, the federal judiciary has consisted solely of well-connected white men who graduated from elite Ivy League law schools. Their rulings were skewed in favor of corporations and their fellow elites. 

While progress has been made to diversify the federal judiciary, we are still far from where we need to be. A 2019 study by the Center for American Progress found that only 20 percent of all sitting judges are people of color. Eight of the 13 circuit courts and 55 of the 91 district courts have no active women of color serving as judges. 

The current makeup of the bench also skews towards judges with prosecutor and corporate lawyer backgrounds. In 2019, a study found 60 percent of sitting U.S. Circuit Court judges had a corporate law background. Meanwhile, 70 percent of judges on the appellate courts spent the majority of their career in private practice or as federal prosecutors. Few other backgrounds are well represented — which means very few of our federal judges have a civil rights, environmental, defense, or labor background. 

How Diverse Judges Affect Rulings 

Judges bring their life experiences to every ruling. One famous study found that while over 80 percent of white federal judges believed Black litigants were treated fairly in the criminal legal system, only 18 percent of Black federal judges believed the same. Another study found that while Black judges were more likely to rule in favor of affirmative action programs than non-Black judges, when a Black judge was added to a panel of all non-Black judges, each judge was 20 percent more likely to rule in favor of affirmative action programs. 

Professional diversity has been found to be similarly important. In fact, a study by Demand Justice found that judges that work as prosecutors or who have substantial corporate backgrounds are significantly more likely to rule against workers in employment cases than lawyers of any other background. 

President Biden’s decision to nominate Judge Jackson is historic in more ways than one, and his judicial nominees overall have been exceptional. Diversity of all kinds matters. We deserve a federal judiciary that looks like the country it represents, and includes a wide range of voices dedicated to upholding the law and our constitutional rights.   

Call your Senators and tell them to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson

The evidence is clear: diverse judges mean more fair and just rulings. President Biden made a great start to filling the federal judiciary with diverse judges and we urge the Senate to speedily confirm all of his nominees, especially Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

Call your Senators now and urge them to act speedily to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.