The Gavel Gap: State Court Judges and Diversity

state court judges The demographics of our state court judges play a factor in the overall public opinion of the United States court system. How so?

These men and women handle about 90% of legal business of the courts in America. As courts of general jurisdiction, they hear both federal and state law. In 2013 alone, 94 million cases were brought into state trial courts. It’s safe to say that majority of Americans’ interactions with our judicial system takes place in the state courts.

Yet, the confidence of many Americans in our justice system is wavering. This recent report of the demographics of state court judges in America may help explain why.

Last month, professors at Vanderbilt University and the University of Toronto with assistance from the American Constitution Society, released their report on the demographics of these judges from around country. The report is based on a database they created of more than 10,000 state court judges from all 50 states and Washington D.C. considering the gender, racial, and ethnic composition of all U.S. state courts. The data is current as of December 2014.

The report concluded that white males make up the majority of state judiciary. In fact, more than half of all trial and appellate state court judges are white men.

Conversely, fewer than one-third of state court judges in the United States are women. In fact, in a handful of states, women are underrepresented on the bench by a ratio of 1:4. Not one U.S. jurisdiction has as many female state court judges as it does men.

The report also looked into the racial and ethnic backgrounds of state court judges across the United States. While 4 in 10 Americans are people of color, only 2 in 10 state court judges are people of color. In 16 states, judges of color represented less than 1 in 10 state court judges.

Aside from looking at the spectrum across the board, the report also showcased the findings of each state and district and ranked them 1-51 on which had the most diversity in their state judiciary, specifically regarding representation of women and judges of color.

Illinois came in toward the top for some diversity rankings. Although we ranked 23rd for our percentage of female state court judges (30.5% of all Illinois state judiciary), we also ranked 13th for our percentage of judges of color (26.83% of all Illinois state judiciary); and 12th for our percentage of both women and minority state court judges (47% of all Illinois state judiciary).

Take a look at the other jurisdictions on the list and let us know how yours did? One thing’s for certain. To increase public confidence in our court system, it would help if its leaders are representative of the people they serve.

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