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Fair Courts Update: Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Disparities on State Supreme Courts

State supreme courts continue to fail to reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

Last Updated: May 27, 2022
Published: June 8, 2022

Bren­nan Center Releases Third Update of State Supreme Court Diversity Data

On May 20, the Bren­nan Center published the third update to its report, State Supreme Court Diversity, with new inform­a­tion about the demo­graphic and profes­sional diversity of state supreme court justices as of May 18.

Since our last update in April 2021, 29 justices have left the bench, and 25 new justices have been sworn in, leav­ing four vacan­cies open. Fifteen of the new justices are women, ten are people of color, and seven are women of color.

Over­all, there was slight progress in racial, ethnic, and gender diversity among state supreme court justices. Nation­wide, just 18 percent of state supreme court justices identify as people of color, compared to 17 percent in April 2021. Women hold 41 percent of state supreme court seats, up from 39 percent.

Profes­sional diversity, mean­while, remains lack­ing. Thirty-nine percent of sitting justices are former prosec­utors, up from 37 percent. In contrast, only 7 percent of justices are former public defend­ers, and a mere 2 percent have worked as civil legal aid attor­neys, show­ing no increase in the past year.

Center for Repro­duct­ive Rights Releases New Report on State Consti­tu­tions and Abor­tion Rights

On May 12, the Center for Repro­duct­ive Rights (CRR) published State Consti­tu­tions and Abor­tion Rights, a new report look­ing at state consti­tu­tional protec­tions for abor­tion rights.

The report high­lights the 11 state supreme courts that have issued decisions either recog­niz­ing that their state’s consti­tu­tion provides greater protec­tion for abor­tion rights and access than the federal consti­tu­tion or strik­ing down restric­tions that were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In addi­tion, the report takes a close look at cases from seven states where the CRR was involved in abor­tion rights litig­a­tion. For each case, the report explains the legal basis for the decision, its impact on abor­tion access within the state, and its influ­ence on other state high courts.

The report concludes by look­ing toward the future: “State courts must now address the racism that under­girds abor­tion restric­tions and extend protec­tions for the full spec­trum of rights – from becom­ing preg­nant, to safe preg­nancy and child­birth care, to secur­ity for famil­ies – that are key parts of repro­duct­ive autonomy and have never been given their due.”

Justice Kennedy Calls SCOTUS Leak “Cowardly, Corrupt, Contemp­tu­ous”

Retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy called the leak of the draft major­ity opin­ion writ­ten by Justice Samuel Alito in Dobbs v. Jack­son Women’s Health Organ­iz­a­tion that would over­turn Roe v. Wade “a cowardly, corrupt, contemp­tu­ous act.”

In remarks made public at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 300th Anniversary Symposium on May 20, Kennedy said the leak “hurt” the Court because the justices are “so proud that our inde­pend­ence consists of the tradi­tion of talk­ing just among ourselves to have reas­ons why we decide the case.” He also called on “every court in the coun­try” to “take this moment to recom­mit itself to the idea of abso­lute judi­cial inde­pend­ence” and “abso­lute commit­ment to a rational, thought­ful discourse that does not turn into a public debate.”

Chief Justice John Roberts previ­ously released a state­ment saying the leak was “an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here” and order­ing an invest­ig­a­tion into the source of the leak. Justice Thomas called the leak “tremend­ously bad,” and Justice-desig­nate Ketanji Brown Jack­son said, “Every­body who is famil­iar with the court and the way in which it works was shocked by [the leak].”