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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].”