The federal judiciary needs more Latino judges

The federal judiciary needs more Latino judges
© Getty Images

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Texas, will soon be without a single Latino judge on the bench after President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republicans move to block Yemen war-powers votes for rest of Congress Trump says he's considering 10 to 12 contenders for chief of staff Michael Flynn asks judge to spare him from jail time MORE’s recent nomination of Judge Edward Prado to serve as the ambassador to Argentina. Judge Prado’s replacement — serving a state where nearly four in 10 Texans are Latino — will not be Latino. 

Approximately 90 percent of President Trump’s judicial nominees have been white. Prado’s departure, and subsequent non-diverse replacement, highlights the administration’s practice of passing over well-qualified Latino judges for seats on the federal bench, at a time when the country and the practice of law have become increasingly diverse. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The lack of diversity reflected in this administration’s judicial nominees is a significant change from recent past presidents. More than one-third of President Obama’s confirmed nominees were people of color, with 62 percent of his nominees to the U.S. District Courts being judges from underrepresented backgrounds.

 

Since Trump took office, the racial composition of federal nominees now resembles the federal bench of the 1980s. The administration’s failure to nominate qualified Latino judges exacerbates the disparity between the population as a whole and the number of Latino judges.

Presently, of the 723 federal judges nationwide actively serving on District Courts, U.S. Courts of Appeals, and the Supreme Court, only 70 are Latino. This represents only 9.7 percent of the federal bench. This trend stands in stark contrast to the expanding size of the Latino population, which makes up approximately 17 percent of the total U.S. population. By 2050, about 29 percent of the U.S. population will be Latino. 

The federal bench currently has more than 100 judicial vacancies. This administration and congressional leaders should think of this as an opportunity to ensure that our federal bench better reflects the diverse demographics and viewpoints of our country.

There are qualified Latino judges who should be considered for judgeships today. Trump’s first Latino nominee, Fernando Rodriguez, would have been an excellent nominee to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rodriguez, who received his education at Yale University and at the University of Texas School of Law, was a partner in a major law firm before pursuing his current career prosecuting child trafficking cases in the Dominican Republic. In the Ninth Circuit, Trump should reconsider his decision to bypass the recommendations of Sens. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan Merkley How to reform the federal electric vehicle tax credit Dem senator accuses Trump of aiding 'cover up' over Khashoggi Criminal justice reform splits 2020 Democrats MORE (D-Ore.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by Amgen — House passes bill to stop drug companies overcharging Medicaid | Incoming Dem chairman open to 'Medicare For All' hearings | Bill to reduce maternal mortality rates passes House Coal supporter Manchin named top Dem on Senate Energy Committee House passes bill to keep drug companies from overcharging Medicaid MORE (D-Ore.) to fill the vacancy with fellow Oregonian, Judge Marco Hernandez.

Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDemocrats have major policy dilemma with new Congress Booker's potential 2020 bid is generating buzz among Democratic activists, says political reporter Obama: 'No ferns. No memes' in final plea urging people to sign up for ObamaCare MORE nominated Hernandez to the District Court. As a young person, Hernandez worked as a dishwasher and janitor, eventually working his way through community college and law school. He spent his early career working in legal aid before becoming a prosecutor and a judge. The experiences of Rodriguez and Hernandez reflect the highest traditions of the law and would inform their decisions in cases that affect the daily lives of Americans. 

Having fewer Latino federal judges on the bench leaves the judiciary without the broad base of perspectives and backgrounds of our citizenry. Justice Sonia Sotomayor — the first person of Latino heritage to serve on the Supreme Court — once called the lack of diversity in race, gender and background on the federal bench “a huge danger” to our society.

Without diversity, judges may not as easily understand the vast range of issues that come before them. An institution that lacks diversity also loses the public’s trust. The courts rely on the fidelity of the American people to the Constitution to ensure that justice system remains effective. 

It is critical that the judiciary reflects the diverse makeup of our society. Federal District Court and Appeals Court judges hear 99 percent of the cases that never make it to the Supreme Court, and their decisions bear on issues involving employment, criminal justice, immigration, education, the environment and other important areas of the law.

The current vacancies present a valuable opportunity to bring us closer to a federal judiciary that more accurately reflects our country’s diversity of viewpoints and backgrounds. Serious consideration of Latinos for these positions is an imperative.

Maritza Perez is a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress.

Ben Hernandez-Stern served as the president of the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia in 2017.

Both are attorneys in Washington, DC. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone and do reflect the views of their respective employers.