A lack of diversity on the bench harms the judicial system, panelists warn

A recent report by NYU Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, State Supreme Court Diversity, found an extreme lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity on state supreme courts across the country, with 24 states having an all-white supreme court bench, and 17 states having only one female justice. The implications of judicial homogeneity, including the potential for weakened credibility with the public, were the focus of “Building a Diverse Bench,” a panel discussion hosted by the Brennan Center and and the NYU Law chapter of the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy on October 10. 

Vanita Gupta
Vanita Gupta '01

The panelists discussed the relationship between diversity and public trust in the judicial system, the need to view diversity from a lens beyond race and gender, and ways in which pipelines and mentorship programs can increase diversity. 

Among the panelists were Vanita Gupta ’01, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights; Judge Robert Gordon of the US Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland; and Judge Joseph Zayas, administrative judge for the Queens Supreme Court.

Selected remarks:

Vanita Gupta: “Judicial diversity really matters, because the public’s trust in our judicial system and its sense that the judicial system is actually legitimate in communities that interact with it is really essential to any notion of justice in our communities and in society. And representation, therefore, matters a great deal.”

Joseph Zayas: “One of the hurdles to achieving diversity is that—especially in [elections]—folks don’t want to give up the damn seats.… Folks who support diversity would also fight giving up seats that might create diversity.”

Robert Gordon
Robert Gordon

Robert Gordon: “I regularly hire interns from the Just the Beginning Foundation for the summer….It’s a program intended to create, mold, build, establish, and give law students—and younger even, but here the focus of course [is] on internships and law clerkships—a platform to be able to get into [a legal and judicial role]. And we all know how much that means to have a federal clerkship to the future resumé, and also the likelihood that you’ll get nominated to a federal judicial position, or go through the merit selection panel as we bankruptcy judges do.”


Follow the full discussion on video:

Posted November 25, 2019