Our country’s state courts do not reflect the racial and gender diversity of the communities they serve. That is the conclusion of a new study on state supreme court diversity published by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
State supreme courts sit at the top of state judiciaries. They do not generally get the same attention as the U.S. Supreme Court but they hold substantial power.
Taken as a whole, state courts hear 95 percent of all cases filed in the United States. State supreme courts generally provide the last word in interpreting state law and set precedents that bind more than 23,000 lower state court judges.
Drawing on nearly 60 years of data, the Brennan Center for Justice made these major findings:
–18 states have never seated a Black justice.
–12 states have not seated a single person of color as a justice since at least 1960.
–Currently, 24 states do not have a single justice of color on their state high court bench.
–People of color make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, but hold only 15 percent of state supreme court seats.
–White men constitute less than a third of the population, but over half (56 percent) of state high court justices.
–Women hold only 36 percent of state supreme court seats.
Where does Alabama fit into these numbers? Persons of color represent 34 percent of Alabama’s population. Currently, the state has no justices of color on its high court.
Here’s why the Brennan Center Study says this is important: “Our courts are tasked with ensuring that everyone receives equal justice under the law. Diversity on the bench is critical to this task, promoting both the appearance and reality of a fair and impartial justice system. On this measure, state supreme courts overwhelmingly fall short”.