Fair Courts E-lert: Utah Law School Dean on Judicial Diversity; Georgia Gov. Expands the High Court

May 6, 2016

JUDICIAL DIVERSITY

Law School Dean: Utah Judicial Diversity Will Not Auto-Correct

The argument that specifically considering diversity when nominating judges is no longer necessary due to an expanding pool of women and minority attorneys does not hold water, according to Robert W. Adler, Dean and Distinguished Professor at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law. In a column for The Salt Lake Tribune, Adler responds to the recent removal of “[l]anguage identifying diversity as one of many factors to consider…from the application for judicial nominations.” He asserts that the lack of diversity on the Utah bench cannot be remedied by relying on an attorney profession that “is nowhere close to being proportional to the state’s population.” “If we rely on the existing proportions of lawyers as the source of the state’s judges, with no separate consideration of diversity for similarly qualified candidates, we will only perpetuate the lack of diversity in the judiciary,” writes Adler. “In a world where perception can be as important as reality, it is critically important that members of under-represented groups who enter the state courthouse believe that the deck is evenly stacked.”

Retired Judge: AK Gov. Should Appoint a Woman to Fill High Court Vacancy

The only female judge on the Alaska Supreme Court is set to retire, and senior judge Elaine Andrews says the governor should appoint a woman as her replacement. “From my vantage point as a retired judge, and one of the earliest women to be appointed to the District Court (by Gov. Jay Hammond) and to the Superior Court (by Gov. Walter Hickel), it is critical that Walker appoint a woman to the court to achieve the goal of fairness and equality in our justice system,” writes Judge Andrews in an opinion piece in the Alaska Dispatch News. “All but two states in our nation have at least one woman on their highest court and most have two or three women justices,” notes Judge Andrews. “How can Alaskans have confidence in the fairness of our justice system if women are deprived of participating in decisions on some of the most important legal questions that affect us all?”

STATE JUDICIAL SELECTION

Georgia Gov. Set to Leave Lasting Impression on State Supreme Court

On Tuesday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed into law an expansion of the Georgia Supreme Court from seven justices to nine that allows him to appoint the court’s new members. “Coupled with two upcoming retirements and another appointment he previously made, the Republican will now have the chance to tap the majority of the court’s justices,” writes Greg Bluestein in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Appointed justices run for six-year terms in nonpartisan elections after they have served at least six months on the bench but, according to Bluestein, “incumbents are rarely ousted.” He adds that “[s]upporters of the measure, including several judicial leaders, said it’s needed to help the court system keep pace with the demands of a fast-growing state.” Some, including former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court Leah Ward Sears, expressed skepticism. “I, personally, don’t want to impute motive, but I know a number of people who believe that if the court contained more ‘friends,’ more cases would be decided the way they want them to be,” said Sears.

Candidates for Upcoming Vacancy on Wisconsin Supreme Court Step Forward

Two Wisconsin judges have declared their intent to apply for an upcoming vacancy on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, reports Patrick Marley for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Last week, Justice David Prosser announced that he would retire in July. Gov. Scott Walker (R) will appoint a replacement justice to serve until 2020, at which point the replacement could run for a full term in a nonpartisan election. Two judges – state appeals court judge Mark Gundrum and circuit judge Jim Troupis – announced last Friday that they plan to apply for the seat. Marley adds that “both Gundrum and Troupis said if they were appointed they would run for a full 10-year term in 2020” and that Walker appointed both judges to their current positions. “Prosser is part of the Supreme Court’s 5-2 conservative majority,” he adds. “Walker’s appointment is expected to preserve the court’s ideological makeup.”