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Project

Diversity on the Bench

Across the country, courts do not reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. We collect data on racial and gender diversity in the judiciary, study hurdles to reaching the bench, and urge reforms for promoting judicial diversity.

Overview

Diversity on the bench is an essen­tial compon­ent of a fair and impar­tial judi­ciary. Bring­ing a range of exper­i­ences and perspect­ives to bear allows judges to make better informed decisions and increases public confid­ence in their rulings. Unfor­tu­nately today, neither state nor federal courts reflect the diversity of the communit­ies they are supposed to serve.

Draw­ing on nearly 60 years of data, the Bren­nan Center has found that state supreme courts are over­whelm­ingly white and male, and that by some meas­ures, they have actu­ally become less reflect­ive of an increas­ingly diverse U.S. popu­la­tion over time.

The lack of racial and gender diversity on today’s courts is driven by myriad and complex factors, includ­ing a long history of racial and gender discrim­in­a­tion and inequit­ies in access to law schools and the legal bar. The Bren­nan Center stud­ies how judi­cial selec­tion may affect diversity, find­ing that judi­cial elec­tions have rarely been a path for people of color to reach state supreme courts. We also found racial dispar­it­ies in virtu­ally every element of state supreme court elec­tions, from who wins, to how frequently incum­bent justices are chal­lenged, to how much money candid­ates raise, to who is suppor­ted by special interest groups.

We also encour­age meas­ures to promote diversity on the bench. For example, judi­cial public finan­cing is one proven mech­an­ism for open­ing the door to other­wise qual­i­fied candid­ates who lack access to networks of wealthy donors. The Bren­nan Center’s guides to build­ing a diverse bench focus on simple changes and best prac­tices that judi­cial nomin­at­ing commis­sions can under­take to strengthen the applic­ant pool for judge­ships and ensure equit­able consid­er­a­tion of judi­cial candid­ates.

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