In the Two Minute Drill, we explain complex issues in politics in 500 words or less (roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor). Politics just isn’t always that complicated. Without the fluff and partisan bias, even the most complex of our political differences can be explained succinctly. This week: racial diversity and the federal judiciary. This is The Two Minute Drill for March 6, 2015.
The Obama administration has a record of unprecedented achievements in judicial diversity. “It’s been quite an impressive record,” said Sheldon Goldman, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Ahmerst who studies judicial nominations. “A large majority of his appointments – approximately 60% – have gone to non-traditional candidates, people who are not white males.” Eleven openly gay judges now serve where there was only one. Women make up 42% of Obama’s confirmed nominees, more than double the average of his five predecessors combined. And the number of racial minorities serving on the federal judiciary, particularly in terms of African Americans, is at an all-time high.
The Explanation (500 or Bust)
The first African American appointed to a lower federal judgeship authorized by Article III of the U.S. Constitution was William H. Hastie, appointed by President Truman in 1949 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (comprised of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). The first African American to serve as a U.S. district court judge was James B. Parsons, appointed by President Kennedy in 1961 to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
In the years following Judge Hastie’s appointment in 1949, the number of African Americans serving as U.S. circuit and district court judges remained relatively low. In fact, the number of African American circuit court judges remained below five until 1980. But since President Obama took office, the increase in the number of African Americans serving as U.S. circuit and district court judges is notable. For U.S. circuit court judgeships, the percentage of judgeships held by African Americans ranged from a low of 1.5% (on January 1 of 1950, 1955, and 1960) to a high of 11.7% (on January 1, 2015). For U.S. district court judgeships, the percentage of judgeships held by African Americans ranged from a low of 1.3% (on January 1, 1965) to a high of 12.8% (on January 1, 2015).
The current number of African American district court judges, 86, is at an historic high. This is largely attributable to an increase in the number of African American women appointed during the Obama administration. From January 1, 2010, to January 1, 2015, the number of African American female district court judges increased from 22 to 36 (a 64% increase), while the number of African American male district court judges increased by 1, from 49 to 50 (a 2% increase).
While the recent increase in the number of African Americans serving on the federal judiciary is notable, there remain continuing issues to address in the appointment of African American judges. A significant issue is that there are few or no African American judges currently serving in several judicial circuits and districts with populations comprised of relatively high percentages of African Americans.
For example, the Eleventh Circuit (Alabama, Georgia, and Florida) has an African American population of over 7.5 million (22% of its total population). However, an African American is currently appointed to only one (8%) of the circuit’s 12 authorized judgeships. Additionally, 4 of the 10 federal judicial districts with the highest percentage of population that is African American (in each case, 33% or greater) do not presently have a single African American district court judge actively serving.
Word Count: 431
The Five Best Things We’ve Read This Week
Here are the five most interesting articles we read this week:
- Let’s Make a Baby. “That’s the promise. The fear is that germ line engineering is a path toward a dystopia of super people and designer babies for those who can afford it. Want a child with blue eyes and blond hair? Why not design a highly intelligent group of people who could be tomorrow’s leaders and scientists.” From MIT Technology Review: Engineering the Perfect Baby.
- Selma. Selma isn’t “so much a place of imagination and triumph as a poor Alabama city where more than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty and the unemployment rate is twice the state average. It was a place still struggling to overcome the racial divisions that have in many ways defined it for generations.” From Greg Jaffe and Juliet Eilperin in WaPo: Fifty Years after ‘Bloody Sunday’ March, Struggles Endure in Selma.
- Memento. “In the first debriefing, she remembered the incident as a fistfight between her and another girl. In the second, she remembered having thrown a small rock at her adversary after the girl uttered a slur. By the third debriefing, the rock had grown to the size of her fist and she had hurled it at the girl’s face.” From Douglas Starr in The New Yorker: Remembering a Crime That You Didn’t Commit.
- A Van down by the River. “A few have felt so badly for him that they’ve approached the van with prayers and crumpled bills, assuming he must be homeless. They wonder: Is he a runaway teen? A destitute surfer? A new-age wanderer lost on some spiritual quest? The truth is even stranger: The Van Man has a consistent 92-mile-an-hour fastball, a $2 million signing bonus, a deal with Nike and a growing fan club.” From Eli Saslo in ESPN: The Man in the Van.
- Bugging Out. “McDonald’s Corp’s U.S. restaurants will gradually stop buying chicken raised with antibiotics vital to fighting human infections, the most aggressive step by a major food company to change chicken producers’ practices in the fight against dangerous ‘superbugs.'” From Lisa Baertlein and P.J. Huffstutter in Reuters: McDonald’s USA to Phase out Human Antibiotics from Chicken Supply.
And in case you missed it, check out The Weekly Column. This past week argued that limitation riders to appropriation bills – provisions that specifically prohibit the use of funds for designated activities – are unconstitutional. Read the Column for March 4, 2015 – Limitation Riders to Appropriations Bills Are an Unconstitutional Violation of the Separation of Powers.