Diversity matters on the Supreme Court (Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin)

Diversity matters on the Supreme Court.  Additional diversity can help Supreme Court Justices as they try to understand how their decisions affect everyday Americans.  Supreme Court Justices have sworn an oath to protect and uphold our Constitution and apply the law impartially.  The courts are often the last resort for women and minorities who are seeking justice and protection from the government or special interests

During her confirmation hearing, Solicitor General Kagan said in her opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee on which I serve, equal justice under the law “means that everyone who comes before the Court – regardless of wealth or power or station – receives the same process and protections … it promises nothing less than a fair shake for every American.“  Justices who bring diverse backgrounds to the Court will have had broader experiences with everyday Americans and should help continue to break down barriers to ensure that the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans are protected.

Everyone should care about who is on the Supreme Court.  The decisions made by the Supreme Court affect all of us.  If you work for a living, if you're a woman, if you vote, if you care about the air we breathe or the water you drink, if you're a consumer, you need to be concerned about the Supreme Court.

The White House and the Senate should also be working to increase the diversity of the judges on the lower federal courts, which hear the vast majority of cases.   One example is the Fourth Circuit, which includes my home state of Maryland, as well as Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.  The Fourth Circuit is one of the most diverse Circuits in the nation, comprised of 22% African Americans, according to the most recent Census estimates.  By comparison, in Maryland African Americans comprise 30% of the population while nationally 12% of the population is African American.

Ironically, the judges on the Fourth Circuit have not historically been known for their diversity.  The first woman to sit on the Fourth Circuit was not appointed until 1992.  The first African American to sit on the Fourth Circuit was not appointed until 2001.

In recent years I have been pleased that the Fourth Circuit has become more diverse and representative of the population it oversees.  The Senate took another important step toward increasing diversity with the confirmation of Judge James Wynn before the August recess.  I am proud that four out of the 15 judges on the Fourth Circuit – about one-quarter of the court – are now African American.  I also am pleased that in 2007, for the first time in history, a woman served as Chief Judge of the Fourth Circuit.  Until a vacancy occurred last year, women made up just three out of the 15 judges on the Fourth Circuit, or one-fifth of the court. 

I look forward to further increasing the diversity on the Fourth Circuit in the future. With the nomination of Judge Albert Diaz of North Carolina, the Senate has another opportunity to increase diversity on the Fourth Circuit.  If confirmed, Judge Diaz would be the first Latino judge to ever sit on the Fourth Circuit in its history.

President Obama is trying to reshape the federal judiciary to reflect American society.  He has nominated women and minorities at an unprecedented rate.  Of Obama’s 70 Appellate and District Court nominees, 44% are female and 43% are minorities.  By contrast, of the 322 confirmed judges during the Bush administration, only 22% were women and less than 18% were minorities.  President Obama has made great strides in trying to create a judiciary that is representative of the people.  If only the Senate could move forward and actually confirm more of these fine jurists.

Let us continue to work to make progress in making our courts more diverse, as “we the people” strive for a more perfect union.

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