Washington, D.C. — A new report from the Center for American Progress reveals a stunning lack of diversity in the federal judiciary today, based on an analysis of official data.
The report shows how President Donald Trump’s judicial picks have only added to this disparity and reversed progress made under past administrations. Trump’s nominees are the least racially and ethnically diverse of any presidential administration over the past three decades.
Overall, CAP found that 80 percent of all sitting federal judges in the nation are white and 73 percent are male, compared with a U.S. population that is only 60 percent white and slightly less than 50 percent male. Moreover, although Hispanics make up about 18 percent of the U.S. population, they comprise only about 7 percent of sitting judges on the federal courts; there are only two sitting American Indian judges on the federal courts and no Muslim judges; and fewer than 1 percent of sitting judges self-identify as LGBTQ.
“Members of the public increasingly perceive federal courts as unfair, particularly to underrepresented groups,” said Danielle Root, lead author of the report and associate director of Voting Rights and Access to Justice at CAP. “The inclusion of judges from different backgrounds and walks of life results in more thoughtful and balanced decisions and can help restore legitimacy to the courts.”
Data from specific appeals courts also reveal some startling regional disparities:
In the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals—which covers Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin—100 percent of the sitting appellate judges are white.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has only one sitting female appellate judge and just one sitting judge of color.
Only 13 percent of appellate judges sitting on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are Hispanic, compared with 31 percent of the population it covers in California and the far Western states.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals—which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi—covers an area that is only 45 percent white, yet 85 percent of its sitting appellate judges are white. Moreover, the 5th Circuit has only one sitting Hispanic appellate judge, even though Hispanics make up roughly a third of the population in the area the court serves.
Among sitting judges, the composition of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is 90 percent white, even though the population it covers in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia is only 55 percent white.
Among sitting judges, women are underrepresented on all federal appellate courts relative to their share of the population, by gaps ranging from 11 to 45 percentage points.
The report argues that the current makeup of the federal judiciary does not represent the population it serves. It also explores how judicial diversity leads to better, fairer decisions and acts as a check on bias in the courtroom.
The report recommends finding ways to bring more lawyers belonging to historically underrepresented groups into the pipeline for judgeships, for example, by increasing outreach to get more young people and law students from these backgrounds interested in becoming judges and by making the law school admission process fairer and more accessible to such students.
It also recommends ensuring that law students and lawyers from underrepresented groups have access to professional opportunities that are traditionally considered prerequisites for future judgeships, such as clerkships and positions at prestigious law firms. The report further urges the White House and Congress to make judicial diversity a priority.
Read the report: “Building a More Inclusive Federal Judiciary” by Danielle Root, Jake Faleschini, and Grace Oyenubi.