Today, online news channels, TV, newspapers and social media are inundated with stories of women (and men) speaking out against injustices that professional women have had to endure from men in positions of power. But there is a calculated plan unfolding that will have long-lasting effects on the judiciary that is largely unnoticed. It may not be as sexy as bringing down a famous director (or two), or dethroning a political candidate, but one that may be even more important in the long run.
While individuals who engage in sexism and vagrant mistreatment of women are deservingly being “outed,” we are seeing a dangerous revival of sexism at the highest level of our government. A recent Associated Press survey found that 81 percent of President Trump’s nominees for federal judgeships are men, and that 91 percent are white. That is the highest percentage of white men in 30 years, according to the news service.
Only 11 of 58 nominees to appellate and district court judgeships are women, while 47 are men. All but five of those 58 nominees are white, while three are Asian-American, one is Hispanic and one is African-American.
I believe deeply in the importance of increasing diversity at all levels in our legal system, as well as promoting diverse lawyers to positions of power in firms and on trial teams. However, the importance of diversity is especially true in our judicial system, which must reflect today’s multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-gender and multi-racial society. The judicial branch holds a unique place in our government.
For our system to be fair – and to be perceived as fair by non-white males – we must have judges from all walks of life and with diverse life experiences hearing and judging the cases in our system.
The nature of Trump’s judicial appointments in the past year is a remarkable contrast with President Obama’s record. During his eight years in office, 42 percent of his confirmed judges were women and only 37 percent were white men. However, the Republican-controlled Senate blocked all of Obama’s appointments in the last year of his term, giving Trump an opportunity to make far more lifetime appointments to the bench.
While we, as legal professionals, don’t have the power to make judicial appointments, we can sound the alarm about sexism and prejudice in our courts. Neither our country nor our judicial system can go back in time to an era when women and minorities were excluded from positions of power in the workplace and in government.
Whatever your political beliefs, I encourage you to speak up for gender, racial and ethnic diversity in our courts because it strengthens our nation’s judicial system. It is even more important today because the courts serve as a role model for our legal profession and our society as a whole. Get involved in legal, community and civic organizations. Find candidates who share your values and offer your support. That is our responsibility as defenders of a fair and equitable American system of justice.