Getting More Women (and Women of Color) on State and Federal Courts

Wooden gavel with blurred scales of justice in the background

20160111_Judges_WOCAppealToday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing for two federal judicial nominees.  As those who have been following the Senate Judiciary Committee’s persistent refusal do #DoYourJob this Congress are well aware, this is a fairly rare occurrence. Even rarer: that the two nominees at this hearing are both AAPI women.  Lucy Koh, currently a district court judge on the Northern District of California, has been nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Florence Pan, currently a judge on D.C.’s Superior Court, has been nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  Judge Koh, the first Korean-American federal judge, would, if confirmed, become only the second AAPI woman to sit on a federal court of appeal.  And if confirmed, Judge Pan would be the first AAPI judge on the federal district court in D.C.
The nominations of Judges Koh and Pan are reflective of recent, sustained efforts to improve the quality of justice for all by creating more representative federal courts. Even though women make up half the population – and almost half of law students – only about one-third of active federal judges are women, and only one-tenth are women of color. Recent scholarship has highlighted the inadequate representation of women and minorities on state courts as well. The authors of The Gavel Gap found that fewer than one-third of state court judges are women, with women of color making up a dismal 8% of state trial and appellate courts. We can, and should, do better on both our federal and state courts.
The failure of our courts to reflect our diverse population is a pervasive problem, and one that matters deeply to our justice system.  We need to redouble our efforts to increase the diversity—both demographic and experiential—of judges on the federal and state level.