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Chairman Nadler Statement for Subcommittee Hearing on “The Importance of a Diverse Federal Judiciary”

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks during a Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet hearing on “The Importance of a Diverse Federal Judiciary”:

“Mr. Chairman, I will begin my remarks by quoting from the confirmation hearing of a current Supreme Court justice:  ‘When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender,’ the justice said, ‘and I do take that into account.’

“This statement was a frank acknowledgment that our federal judges bring their life experiences with them to bench, and that those experiences inevitably inform their work.  And it goes to the heart of why this hearing is so important.

“The justice also explained that ‘I am who I am in the first place because of my parents,’ telling the Senate Judiciary Committee that ‘my father was brought into this country as an infant,’ ‘grew up in poverty,’ and could not find a find a job as a teacher due to the discriminatory hiring practices prevalent at the time. 

“Our federal courts are made better by having a justice whose family experience with poverty, immigration, and discrimination was so powerful that they not only made that experience part of the record of their confirmation hearing, but they also declared that they had to take that experience into account when deciding cases.

“These words were spoken by now-Justice Samuel Alito at his confirmation hearing in 2006.

“I think most Americans would agree with what Justice Alito said, and they would be glad to have judges who understand that their own, and their colleague’s, varied backgrounds, perspectives, and life experiences make our judiciary stronger.  I also think most Americans, especially most young people, would take for granted the idea that our courts should reflect the incredibly diverse country we have become.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of work to do when it comes to judicial diversity.  There are ways in which the federal judiciary of 2021 looks uncomfortably similar to the federal judiciary of 1921, just a few years after Louis Brandeis overcame a torrent of antisemitic opposition to become the first Jewish supreme court justice.  Somehow, despite all our progress, today’s federal judges remain, for instance, overwhelmingly male, white, former prosecutors or corporate lawyers who went to a handful of law schools.

“There is only one female judge among the Eighth Circuit’s 15 active members, and she is only the second woman ever to serve on that court.  There have been no Black judges on the Seventh Circuit—which encompasses Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana—since 2018, after the first person of color ever to serve on that circuit retired.  There is just one Hispanic judge on the Tenth Circuit, which includes Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.  And there has never been a Native American judge on any court of appeals.

“We need to come to terms with why our federal courts remain so strikingly nondiverse in so many ways.  I am not just referring to characteristics like race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or disability.  Why, for example, are there so few judges who were public defenders, civil rights lawyers, plaintiffs’ attorneys, legal aid attorneys, or small business attorneys?  Our judiciary would be enriched if we had more judges with a broader range of legal experiences and educations.

“We must also consider the consequences this lack of diversity has on the broader judicial system.  For example, Americans are many times more likely to appear in bankruptcy court than in any other federal court, but bankruptcy judges are the least racially and ethnically diverse judges in the entire federal judiciary.  That is especially concerning because bankruptcy judges are appointed by a majority vote of the court of appeals judges in their circuit.

“Since this is an area in which the federal judiciary can address its diversity problem without help from Congress or the President, I hope that it will make improving diversity among its bankruptcy judges a priority.

“Ultimately, we need to remind ourselves of what most Americans understand: That a diverse federal judiciary enhances public faith in the courts and improves the judicial process.

“I want to thank Mr. Johnson for holding this hearing and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about this important topic.”

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