FEDERAL JUDICIARY

Blacks lack presence on federal appellate court

 
 
4 col x 6.5 in/ 220x165 mm/ 749x562 pixels 300 dpi Lee Hulteng watercolor illustration the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court. KRT 2000
4 col x 6.5 in/ 220x165 mm/ 749x562 pixels 300 dpi Lee Hulteng watercolor illustration the courtroom of the U.S. Supreme Court. KRT 2000
MCT / KRT

naacpldf.org

The government shutdown epitomizes the dysfunction caused by a small faction of Congress. But for federal judicial nominations, which require the “advice and consent” of the Senate, obstruction is nothing new. The confirmation process has been broken for some time. The result is a judicial vacancy crisis that harms the administration of justice and, just as important, the diversity of the federal bench.

Sen. Marco Rubio has blocked the nomination of William Thomas to Florida’s federal district court. Thomas is the first openly gay African-American nominee to any federal court. Sen. Rubio’s own 64-member judicial search commission supported Thomas as did the senator, initially. Sen. Rubio has now withdrawn his support, effectively denying Thomas a confirmation vote by the Senate. This obstruction, in the face of a superbly qualified candidate, is cause for great concern. But it is not the only issue looming for Florida’s federal judiciary.

Another issue concerns the racial diversity of judges on the federal appellate court that serves Florida, Georgia and Alabama, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. With the ever-shrinking docket of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit is effectively the court of last resort for residents of these states. Twenty-five percent of the residents are African-American, giving the Eleventh Circuit the highest percentage of African Americans of any circuit court in the country.

Although there are 12 judicial seats on the Eleventh Circuit, only one is held by an African American. Judge Charles Wilson, from Florida, was appointed by President Clinton in 1999.

Only one other African American has ever served on this court. The Eleventh Circuit was created in 1981, when Congress divided six states comprising the Fifth Circuit into two circuits. At that time, Judge Joseph Hatchett, also a Floridian and the only African American on the Fifth Circuit, was reassigned to the Eleventh. When he retired, Judge Wilson took his place.

In other words, the number of African-American judges sitting today on the Eleventh Circuit is the same as it was more than 30 years ago. This should concern everyone who cares about ensuring that our federal judiciary reflects the diversity of our nation and that our courts inspire confidence among our communities. Given its substantial African-American population, and the large pool of superbly qualified African-American attorneys and judges from which to select an appellate judge, the Eleventh Circuit should have more than one African-American jurist by this time.

The lack of racial diversity on the Eleventh Circuit stands in stark contrast to its neighboring circuit courts. Four of the 15 judges on the Fourth Circuit (Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina) are African-American. Two of the 17 seats on the Fifth Circuit (Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas) are filled by African-American judges.

President Obama has already secured confirmation of two judges to the Eleventh Circuit, a white female from Georgia and a Latino nominee from Florida. He has nominated a white woman, Jill Pryor, to another Georgia vacancy. We should applaud this increase in gender and ethnic diversity on the Eleventh Circuit.

Now it’s time for President Obama to focus on bringing greater racial diversity to this court. Fortunately, there are several opportunities for the president to do just that. A fourth vacancy, also from Georgia, is open on the Eleventh Circuit. Judge Rosemary Barkett from Florida recently retired, creating yet another vacancy. Judge Joel Dubina from Alabama is expected to follow, creating a sixth vacancy. Qualified African-American candidates must receive strong consideration.

Diversity within the federal judiciary should be a paramount concern for all those affected by its decisions. Sen. Rubio should cease his antics and allow William Thomas to be confirmed by the Senate. At the same time, President Obama should even more aggressively seek to ensure that nominees to the Eleventh Circuit reflect the rich diversity of the states it serves.

Leslie Proll is the director of the D.C. Office at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
MCT

    SEA-LEVEL RISE

    We can’t delay the fight against sea-level rise

    Regardless of its cause, sea-level rise is the inevitable, non-debatable consequence of the warming of the oceans and the melting of the planet’s ice sheets. It is a measurable, trackable and relentless reality. Without innovative adaptive capital planning, it will threaten trillions of dollars of the region’s built environment, our future water supply, unique natural resources, agricultural soils and basic economy.

  •  
American jihadist Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, who eventually burned his passport, died in May after blowing up a truck in Syria.

    WHITE HOUSE

    White House should release 9/11 documents

    The death of American jihadist Douglas McArthur McCain in Syria raised few eyebrows. It is no secret that there are about 7,000 foreigners fighting alongside the terrorists known as the Islamic State of Islam (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq, of which perhaps 150 to 300 are American.

  •  
GHITIS

    MIDEAST

    ISIS jihadis force U.S. to support its enemy Assad

    History is moving to give us an answer to one of the great foreign-policy debates of this decade. President Obama has time and time again dismissed the argument, repeated recently by Hillary Clinton, that the United States should have taken a more-assertive stance to affect the course of the civil war in Syria. Clinton, who as Obama’s secretary of state argued that Washington should give more material support for moderate rebels, says a decision to intervene could have prevented the current calamity.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category