Program Success Barack Obama Special Edition | Page 25

70 % of Judges Selected By President Obama are Minorities or Women
Washington , DC — President Barack Obama is moving at a historic pace to try to diversify the nation ’ s federal judiciary : Nearly three of every four people he has gotten confirmed to the federal bench are women or minorities . He is the first president who hasn ’ t selected a majority of white males for lifetime judgeships .
70 % of Judges Selected by President Barack Obama are Women or Minorities , Sonia Sotomayor Jacksonville , Florida May 2015
More than 70 percent of Obama ’ s confirmed judicial nominees during his first two years were “ non-traditional ,” or nominees who were not white males . That far exceeds the percentages in the two-term administrations of Bill Clinton ( 48.1 percent ) and George W . Bush ( 32.9 percent ), according to Sheldon Goldman , author of the authoritative book “ Picking Federal Judges .”
“ It is an absolutely remarkable diversity achievement ,” said Goldman , a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst , who is only counting judges once , even if they fit more than one category . The White House recently has been touting its efforts to diversify the federal bench during Obama ’ s tenure , now approaching three years in office .
The president won Senate confirmation of the first Latina to the Supreme Court , Justice Sonia Sotomayor . And with the confirmation of Justice Elena Kagan , he increased the number of women on the high court to three for the first time . The Obama administration also nominated and won confirmation of the first openly gay man to a federal judgeship : former Clinton administration official J . Paul Oetken , to an opening in New York City .
“ All of us can be proud of President Obama for taking this critical step to break down another barrier and increase diversity in the federal judiciary ,” Sen . Patrick Leahy , D-Vt ., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee , said upon Oetken ’ s confirmation . The first openly homosexual federal judge was Deborah A . Batts in New York City , a lesbian nominated by Clinton in 1994 .
Of the 98 Obama nominees confirmed to date , the administration says 21 percent are African-American , 11 percent are Hispanic , 7 percent are Asian- American and almost half - 47 percent - are women . By comparison , of the 322 judges confirmed during George W . Bush ’ s presidency , 18 percent were minorities and 22 percent were female . Of the 372 judges confirmed during Clinton ’ s terms , 25 percent were minorities and 29 percent were women . In these figures , some judges fit into more than one category .
Last week , the Senate confirmed the first African-American woman to sit on the 6th U . S . Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati , Bernice Donald . Earlier , she was the first African-American woman elected as a judge in Tennessee , the first appointed as federal bankruptcy judge in the nation and first confirmed as a U . S . district judge in Tennessee .
Obama also has doubled the number of Asian-Americans sitting on the federal bench , including adding Denny Chin to the 2nd U . S . Circuit Court of Appeals in New York as the only active Asian federal appeals court judge . There currently are 14 Asian-American federal judges on the 810-judge roster .
“ It ’ s really amazing ,” said Carl Tobias , a law professor at the University of Richmond who wrote about the increasing diversity on the federal bench during Obama ’ s administration in an article in the Washington University Law Review . “ Obama has nominated as many as were sitting on the bench when he was inaugurated .”
For more than 140 years , there were no females or minorities among the nation ’ s federal judges . The first female federal appellate judge was Florence Allen , who gained her seat on the 6th U . S . Circuit Court of Appeals in 1934 .
President Obama and Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
The first female U . S . District Court judge was Burnita Shelton Matthews , who took the bench in Washington , D . C ., in 1950 . William Henry Hastie Jr . was the first African-American U . S . District Court judge , sitting in the Virgin Islands in 1937 before being elevated to the 3rd U . S . Circuit Court of Appeals in 1949 .
Reynaldo G . Garza became the first Hispanic federal judge when he was appointed to the U . S . District Court in Texas in 1961 , and Herbert Choy became the first Asian-American federal judge when he was appointed to the 9th U . S . Circuit Court of Appeals in 1971 .
Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court in 1967 , and Sandra Day O ’ Connor was the first woman to be elevated to the nation ’ s highest court in 1981 . I think it ’ s always good to have diverse perspectives , whether it ’ s gender , sexuality or ideology ,” Tobias said .
Those who track diversity on the federal bench are pleased with Obama ’ s progress so far but want more voices from all of America ’ s communities in the federal courts . Obama has nominated three other openly gay judicial nominees , as well as what would be the only active Native American on the federal bench , if Arvo Mikkanen is confirmed to a federal judgeship in Oklahoma .
“ The more diverse the courts , the more confidence people have in our judicial system ,” said Nan Aron of the liberal Alliance for Justice . “ Having a diverse judiciary also enriches the decision-making process .” The makeup of the federal bench could be a major issue during the Senate , House and presidential elections in 2012 .
Obama basically has until the end of this year to get as many of his judicial nominees confirmed as possible , because it is unlikely that a highly partisan Senate will confirm many judges with a presidential election looming in November 2012 . According to the Federal Judicial Center , there are 94 vacancies in the federal courts , with 55 nominees awaiting Senate action .
“ Once we get into an election year â €¦ things always slow down , both because people ’ s attention is in other places and also because the party out of power thinks , ‘ If I can just keep this vacancy open for another year , maybe my president will fill it ,’” said Curt Levey , head of the conservative Committee for Justice , in an interview on “ PBS NewsHour .”
With cases on Obama ’ s health care plan , the military ’ s “ don ’ t ask , don ’ t tell ” policy and gay marriage expected to reach the Supreme Court in the future , judicial selection will be front and center for Obama and the eventual Republican nominee , Aron said . “ The court will be a central issue ,” Aron said . “ It will be in people ’ s minds when they go into the ballot box .”