Diversity Among Federal Judges Sought by Congressional Panel
WASHINGTON — Legal experts who testified to Congress Monday gave qualified support to President Joe Biden’s plan to make the federal judiciary more diversified.
They said a judiciary that looks like the rest of America’s population was more likely to reflect the will of the people rather than the opinions of the slice of the White population that has predominated in past years.
However, they added that diversity should only be a goal after potential judges demonstrate they have the good judgment to properly apply the laws to the facts of cases they hear.
“This country was founded on the principle E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., a member of the House Judiciary subcommittee on courts, intellectual property, and the Internet.
He was speaking to witnesses that included judges and representatives of legal advocacy groups as they suggested methods to ensure qualified women and minorities are appointed to the federal bench.
The hearing coincides with Biden’s recent 19 nominations for federal judgeships, which includes 11 women of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“This trailblazing slate of nominees draws from the very best and brightest minds of the American legal profession,” Biden said in a statement last month. “Each is deeply qualified and prepared to deliver justice faithfully under our Constitution and impartially to the American people — and together they represent the broad diversity of background, experience, and perspective that makes our nation strong.”
So far, the Senate has confirmed U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Court of Appeals. She appears to have Biden’s support to become the first Black woman he would nominate to the U.S. Supreme Court if a vacancy opens.
The Senate also confirmed Biden nominee Zahid Quraishi to become a federal judge in New Jersey, the first Muslim to be appointed to a U.S. District Court.
Biden’s nominees represent a big change from presidential predecessor Donald Trump, who succeeded in appointing judges consisting heavily of White men.
Also unlike many of Trump’s judges who graduated from Yale or Harvard, Biden’s nominees come from a variety of law schools and professional backgrounds.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., cautioned that any concerns about selecting a diverse judiciary should not overshadow the need to ensure judges do their jobs properly.
“The court will never exactly reflect the population of the United States but it will reflect the population of qualified candidates,” Issa said.
Michael J. McShane, a U.S. district judge from Oregon, said the outreach for a diversity of judges should begin with judicial clerks who are hired from law schools. The clerks often use their experience to get jobs first at U.S. attorneys and later as judges.
Currently, only a few top tier law schools are preferred among judges for the clerkships.
He told an anecdote about a time he suggested to his fellow judges, “We need to lose our addiction to Yale and Harvard.”
Students from other law schools with more diverse ethnic backgrounds “are equal in their excellence,” McShane told the congressional subcommittee.
Jennifer C. Braceras, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Independent Women’s Law Center, agreed diversity was a worthwhile goal but warned against activist judges.
“A judiciary that reflects the vibrant tapestry of America enhances the legitimacy of our legal system and gives Americans of all backgrounds confidence that our system of justice is impartial and accessible to all,” Braceras said in her testimony.
She added, “The best judges are those who understand their limits, who see the law not as a chance to correct the world’s ills, but as an opportunity to resolve specific disputes.”
In legal terminology, she referred to “strict constructionists” when she said, “A nominee to the federal bench must understand that the role of a judge is to apply the law as written in the U.S. Constitution or in statutes passed by Congress, not to rewrite those laws to achieve specific policy objectives.”
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