Most Courts Failing Diversity Test, ABA Resolution Says

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By Melissa Heelan Stanzione

Aug. 11 — A diverse bench influences perceptions of justice, a federal magistrate judge told the American Bar Association'sHouse of Delegates at its annual meeting Aug. 8.

But the majority of state court systems “are failing at adequately reflecting the diversity of the populations they serve,” according to a recent American Constitution Societystudy.

The ABA delegates passed a resolution at the meeting urging the federal government, courts and local bar associations to do more to enhance diversity in the judiciary.

There's a “woeful lack of minority and female representation among state judges,” a statement released to Bloomberg BNA accompanying the ACS study said.

‘Very Low' Numbers, High Caseload

Only 14.6 percent of magistrate judges are minorities, and “a very low 5.6 percent” of federal bankruptcy court judges are minorities, according to Nannette A. Baker, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of Missouri.

Yet magistrate and bankruptcy judges handle the majority of federal cases, she said.

Bankruptcy court filings represent “by far” the largest number of cases in federal courts, she said. “Most Americans have their federal court experience before a bankruptcy judge,” Baker said.

As for magistrate judges, they “handle the day-to-day work of thousands of federal cases” and are “the first federal judge at the scene at a federal arraignment,” she said.

That's why it's critical “that those who appear before bankruptcy and magistrate judges perceive that they are being treated fairly,” Baker said.

More “needs to be done if the federal benches are to reflect the population as a whole,” a report accompanying the ABA resolution said.

How to Enhance Diversity

The ABA report offered guidance on how to enhance diversity in the judiciary, by encouraging:

  •  Pipeline recruitment—target qualified minority students, encourage them to apply and provide mentoring about standards necessary to obtain federal judgeships;
  •  diverse merit selection panels—engender more diverse nominations and, in turn, a more diverse pool of applicants; and
  •  selection committees—widen their outreach to the legal community to build a wider pool of candidates.

Even though the judicial branch's diversity has been improving, it is critical to employ these strategies to “quickly and efficiently allow for a more representative federal judiciary which better reflects, and thus serves, the American population,” the ABA resolution said.

With assistance from Samson Habte in Washington

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bna.com and Jeffrey D. Koelemay at jkoelemay@bna.com

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