Monday, 1 December 2008

Federal bench short on diversity


Federal bench short on diversity

Other actions that presidents take may get more attention in the short
term, but few have more long-term implications than appointments to the
federal courts. These are lifetime appointments, and as such can continue
to exercise influence decades after a president has left office.

Although appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court prompt lots of discussion,
and rightly so, presidents also leave a huge impression on the judiciary
with their appointments to the federal district and circuit courts. A
president will make scores of these appointments. President Bush, for
example, has named 322 district and circuit judges. President Clinton
named 371.

In Alabama, there is a lamentable lack of racial diversity in the
appointments made to the federal district bench in the past
quarter-century. We hope to see that change under the Obama
administration, which will have one immediate vacancy to fill upon taking
office in January.

Judge U.W. Clemon, who serves in the Northern District, is leaving the
bench. Clemon and Judge Myron Thompson of the Middle District were the 1st
2 black federal judges in the state. Both were appointed by President
Carter in 1980.

That was 28 years and four presidents ago. No black Alabamian has been
named to the federal bench here since. President Clinton did nominate a
well regarded Birmingham attorney, Ken Simon, in the last months of his
administration in 2000, but that nomination was opposed by Republican Sen.
Richard Shelby, who contended that the incoming president should make the

There is some gender diversity on the federal bench here, although none in
the Middle District of the state. Here, the district judges-- Thompson,
Mark Fuller, Keith Watkins and Senior Judges Truman Hobbs, Harold
Albritton and Ira DeMent -- are all male.

In the Northern District, four of the 12 judges are female. The 4 judges
on senior status are all male. Senior judges continue to hear cases on a
limited basis.

In the Southern District, 2 of the 4 judges are female. The one senior
judge is male.

Race is in itself neither a qualification nor a disqualification for a
federal judgeship. However, federal courts that do not to at least some
reasonable degree reflect the populations whose cases they hear can lose
the confidence of the people. Minorities who aspire to the federal
judiciary have to wonder about how realistic their goals are.

"I don't believe in setting quotas for judgeships, but at the same time
there has not been a black person appointed to the bench since 1980," U.S.
Rep. Artur Davis said in an interview with the Birmingham News. "I think
it's impossible to suggest that there hasn't been a talented, qualified
black lawyer in that time."

Of course it is. The record is as troubling as it is clear -- 2
appointments made 28 years ago, 1 late-term nomination 8 years ago that
never had a chance, and not even so much as a nomination of a black woman,

That's unacceptable.

(source: Montgomery Advertiser)

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