Thursday, January 10, 2013

Georgia Should Codify its Pursuit of Judicial Diversity

[Reprinted from the Daily Report, October 4, 2012]

To the Editors:

We note with interest an article by Leah Ward Sears and Kimberly Bourroughs which appeared in the Sept. 24, 2012, issue of the Daily Report entitled "Raise the bar on judicial diversity." While we concur with the sentiments expressed in the article, we respectfully disagree that the recent gathering at the courthouse steps was an expression of "anger." Rather, it was a concerted effort by minority bar associations and community-based organizations to bring an important issue to the public's attention.

Moreover, we would add that judicial accountability requires that the courts be representative of the communities that they serve. Judicial diversity also promotes impartiality by ensuring that all viewpoints, perspectives and values are part of the decision-making process.

The recent article was particularly commendable in proposing steps that can be taken in pursuit of the goal of a more representative judiciary, especially in addressing the lack of diversity on Georgia's Judicial Nominating Commission ("JNC"). Not long ago, the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys asked Governor Nathan Deal to diversify the JNC, but since then there has been no change in the diversity of its membership. The JNC still has only one African-American male, no African-American females, and no other persons of color among its 15 members. In 2012, this lack of representation does a disservice to the state's highly diverse populace.

Beyond the steps toward increasing judicial diversity which were suggested in the recent article, Georgia should also consider some of the more recent steps which other states have taken to pursue this goal. For example, Arizona has a constitutional provision requiring its judicial nominating commission to "consider the diversity of the state's population, however, the primary consideration shall be merit." Ariz. Const. Art.VI, § 36.

Maryland has an executive order which requires that its nominating commission "shall consider … the importance of having a diverse judiciary." Md. Exec. Order No. 01.01.2007.08.

In Missouri, the governing Supreme Court rules direct that "the Commission shall further take into consideration the desirability of the bench reflecting the racial and gender composition of the community." Mo. S. Ct. R. 10.32(f) (2008).

Several other states have laws that mandate diversity in the composition of their judicial nominating commissions. Florida, for example, requires that "the Governor shall seek to ensure that, to the extent possible, the membership of the Commission reflects the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, as well as the geographic distribution of the population within the territorial jurisdiction of the Court for which nominations will be considered." Fla. Stat. Ann. § 43.291(4) (2008).

Tennessee law requires the appointment of "persons who approximate the population of the state with respect to race, including the dominant ethnic minority population, and gender." Tenn. Code Ann. § 17-4-102(C) (2008) Rhode Island provides that "[t]he Governor and the nominating authorities hereunder shall exercise reasonable efforts to encourage racial, ethnic, and gender diversity within the Commission." R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-16.1-2(a)(3) (2006).

We do not wish to displace the recommendations advanced by Justice Sears and Ms. Bourroughs. However, we suspect that actually codifying the state's pursuit of judicial diversity, as these other states have done, might enhance the likelihood of producing positive results.

Suzanne Wynn Ockleberry, Past President, Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys
Charles S. Johnson, Past President, Gate City Bar Association

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