Sotomayor Speaks Out on Interruptions of Female Justices, Professional Diversity on SCOTUS
On October 13, Justice Sonya Sotomayor, speaking at a virtual event, said that the U.S. Supreme Court’s new format for arguments – in which the justices freely ask questions, but after an attorney’s time has expired, each justice may ask questions uninterrupted in order of seniority– was adopted in part because of studies showing female justices were being interrupted at higher rates than their male counterparts.
Sotomayor said the studies, including one published by Tonja Jacobi and Dylan Schweers in 2017, have had an “enormous impact” and led to Chief Justice John Roberts being “much more sensitive” to justices being interrupted or at least to playing referee if necessary.
At the same event, Sotomayor also remarked that professional diversity is “sorely missing” on the Court, noting that when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away, “we lost our only civil rights lawyer.” She also noted that none of the justices have significant experience with civil rights, criminal defense, immigration, or environmental law, saying “I do worry that the authorities who are selecting judges are not paying enough attention to that kind of diversity as well.”
Democratic Lawmakers Ask Chief Justice How He Plans to Respond to WSJ Investigation
On October 14, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts asking how he plans to respond to the Wall Street Journal’s investigation that found 131 federal judges failed to step aside from cases in which they had a financial conflict.
In their letter, the lawmakers questioned whether Roberts has done enough as head of the federal judiciary to enforce ethics rules. They also noted recent instances in which the justices have failed to disqualify themselves from cases despite having a financial conflict.
Warren and Jayapal also highlighted their proposed legislation, which would bar federal judges from owning individual stocks and require their financial disclosure reports to be posted online, among other things. They also asked whether the justices would commit to adopting a code of conduct and disqualifying themselves from cases in which they had a financial conflict.
The day before, the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts sent a memo to all federal judges announcing a review of the judiciary’s conflict screening procedures.
Ohio Supreme Court Creates Criminal Sentencing Database
On October 4, the Ohio Supreme Court announced it is partnering with the University of Cincinnati to build a database of criminal sentences issued by trial judges across the state, making Ohio the first state to have such a database, according to Cleveland.com.
The database will allow the public to determine whether certain demographic backgrounds in the state are receiving harsher sentences than others for the same crimes. The database will not allow users to examine the sentencing records of individual judges; however, some counties, such as Cuyahoga County, already provide this information.
Out of the 244 trial judges in Ohio, 34 have agreed to participate, with more signing up each day, according to Cleveland.com.
Last year, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor told the Columbus Dispatch that the database would strengthen public confidence in the courts: “For the public to be informed — and for truth to win out over rumor and fiction — they must be able to see equal justice for all and understand how it is measured.”