Judicial Confirmation Advances President’s Effort to Diversify the Bench

April 6, 2012

by Jonathan Arogeti

“President Obama’s judges have shattered barriers across the country,” writes Senior Counsel to the President Christopher Kang.

In a post titled, “Federal Judges That Resemble the Nation They Serve,” Kang notes that the president has doubled the number of Asian American and Pacific Islander federal judges over the past three years.

The Senate recently confirmed Miranda Du to the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, albeit after dragging the process out for 239 days. Judge Du (pictured with Sen. Reid) is the 16th Asian American and Pacific Islander judge in the country. But despite support by Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller, Republican Governor Brian Sandoval, Republican Lieutenant Governor Brian Krolicki and Republican Mayor of Reno Robert Cashell -- in addition to support of Obama and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) -- only five Republican senators joined Sens. Reid and Heller in her confirmation vote.

President Obama’s commitment to diversifying the federal bench was explored in a report issued earlier this year by the Brookings Institution. Russell Wheeler, the report’s author, highlights that only 38 percent of the president’s nominees are white males. That figure contrasts with a 66 percent rate under President George W. Bush and a 53 percent rate under President Bill Clinton.

Eric M. Gutiérrez, the Legislative & Public Policy Director for the National Employment Lawyers Association, wrote recently for ACSblog:

President Obama routinely gets high marks for his efforts to diversify the federal judiciary by nominating “non-traditional” candidates for federal judgeships. In fact, nearly three of every four nominees confirmed to the federal bench during his Administration are either women or minorities; he also is the first president who hasn’t selected a majority of white males for lifetime judgeships.

But a new NELA report looks to the sitting judiciary’s professional diversity. According to Gutiérrez, “the lack of professional diversity has contributed to the increasing judicial hostility workers face in employment cases and the deleterious effect on workers’ access to the courts to vindicate their rights.”

Looking forward, George Washington University law professor David Fontana writes for The New Republic, “[I]n a second term, Obama should look beyond the Supreme Court and focus on nominating such judges to lower courts -- and getting them confirmed…. These judges are not just important in number but in impact: It is the lower federal courts that decide over 99 percent of all federal cases every year.”

For more coverage of the administration’s efforts to lower the high vacancy rate on the federal bench see JudicialNominations.org.