A Quarter of Federal Courts Have Only Ever Had White Judges


Rakim Brooks


Racial Equity

This excerpt is from a piece by Rakim Brooks that originally ran in Democracy Docket on November 6, 2023.

Strikingly, of the 94 district courts across our country, 25 have never had a non-white judge.

Think about that. In a quarter of our country, every single case brought to a federal court has only ever been heard by a white judge. That includes mostly white states like Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont and Wyoming. But it also geographically includes half of Kentucky, most of upstate New York, half of Pennsylvania, half of Virginia and half of West Virginia. A recent Bloomberg report profiled the Southern District of Georgia, where nearly a third of residents are Black, but the court remains all white.

One of the major drivers of our demographic lag has been that the pipeline to becoming a judge has traditionally been very narrow. For the longest time, most judges have come from legal careers at large corporate law firms or prosecutors’ offices, while other legal backgrounds — like legal aid offices that serve the common good and are more often populated by people of color — were not seen as viable paths to a judicial nomination. This approach privileged not only white lawyers, who had greater access to the traditional career paths, but also more men (three district courts in the country have never had a female trial judge).

That’s why Alliance for Justice has been championing the need for both more demographic diversity and more professional diversity. That includes more public defenders and lawyers who have fought to protect civil rights, voting rights, workers’ rights, consumers’ rights and more. If we want to see more women, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities and people of color on the bench, we have to look to these movement lawyers to find them.

Read the complete piece.