Improving Judicial Diversity: A Blueprint for Change

June 1, 2016

With states across the country still struggling to achieve diversity on the bench, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is providing new guidance on how to more effectively recruit and evaluate diverse judicial candidates.

Geared toward judicial nominating commissions — which 36 states and Washington, D.C., use to select at least some of their judges — Building a Diverse Bench: A Guide for Judicial Nominating Commissioners provides concrete steps that states can take to achieve a bench that represents both the populations they serve and the legal profession. It outlines several best practices drawn from lessons, recommendations, and research provided by nominating commissioners, judges, advocates, and scholars.

“Judges do not exist in a vacuum. Their personal and professional experiences affect how they approach the cases that come before them,” said Kate Berry, counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program and author of Building a Diverse Bench. “It is therefore essential that the judiciary reflects the lived experiences of the whole population it serves, not just one subset.”

The manual includes best practices for every stage of the nominating process, from the initial organizational meeting to recruitment to the interviews to the final vote. It focuses on small and easily-implemented changes that can have an outsized effect on the diversity of both the applicant pool and the candidates put before the appointing authority.

Diversity as defined in the manual reflects a person’s professional and personal background. It encompasses gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, parental status, physical ability, religious affiliation or lack thereof, socio-economic background, and geography, as well as legal experience across all areas of the law and representing clients along the socio-economic spectrum.

“When our courts are dominated by only one legal profession, one political party, or one gender or race, the public’s perception of justice suffers,” writes foreword author Yvette McGee Brown, a former Supreme Court of Ohio Justice and the current partner-in-charge of diversity, inclusion & advancement at Jones Day. “When the only people of color in a courthouse are in handcuffs, the public’s perception of Justice is ‘Just Us.’”

Read the manual here. See more on the Brennan Center’s Fair Courts work here.