Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Georgia Court of Appeals Choices are a Wake-Up Call.

November 3, 2015

To the Editors:

Despite protestations by many in the leadership of our State, including those who sit on the Judicial Nominating Commission, that the lack of diverse gubernatorial appointments is only a function of “lack of qualified nominees,” Governor Nathan Deal’s recent appointments to the three (3) newly created Court of Appeals seats confirms that “lack of qualified nominees” is not a reason for the lack of diverse appointments.

The list of nominees for the Court of Appeals included several highly qualified diverse candidates who have practiced law and administered justice in a variety of jurisdictions across the State. The final list of nominees that was sent to the Governor included three (3) distinguished African American sitting judges. Yet not one of them was selected for any of the three vacancies. Instead, the Governor, as has been the tradition, selected a white female and two white males to fill these important seats. Only one of the three (3) was a sitting judge. While there was geographic and gender diversity in his selection, the Governor appears to have completely ignored the importance racial diversity as part of his selection process.

In a state where 30.5% of the population is African American, the Court of Appeals, which hears cases from all across the state, is now 13% African American – far from representative of the state population. There are two (2) African American appellate judges, and one is near retirement age.

But, judging by recent actions, representation apparently does not matter to Governor Deal. He apparently believes that the diverse perspectives of people who don’t look like him are unimportant and need not be reflected on the bench above a token level. Evidently, the Governor does not believe any of the myriad of studies which have established that diversity enhances the quality of judicial decision-making and promotes greater confidence in our system of justice.

As a former judge, the Governor has personal experience of the homogenous composition of Georgia’s courts, and it is especially disappointing that someone with this experience displays an apparent lack of sensitivity to the urgent need for a representative judiciary in our highly diverse State. It is also disappointing that the Governor apparently did not believe that diversity and accountability are important on one of our State’s highest tribunals.

We did not want to believe those who suggested that that the Governor of our great State believes that he only represents “some “of the people – those who voted for him - and not “all” of the people. We did not want to believe that a Governor who inherits the legacy left by Governor Zell Miller and Governor Roy Barnes – a legacy of racially diverse judicial appointments - would turn his back on this legacy and seek to undo it. How can the Governor not be aware of and hear the growing unrest amongst lawyers and the general population that the current judiciary looks less like our state now and more like the all-white judiciary of the 1950’s?

Despite our trepidations, we still had a glimmer of hope that this Governor would “do the right thing” by all of the people of this State whose cases ultimately end up in the Court of Appeals and turn the tide toward inclusivity. It was this hope that led us to encourage a group of highly talented lawyers and judges to allow themselves to be considered for the recent Court of Appeals vacancies.

Apparently, our hopes were misplaced.

Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore (Retired)

Former Judge Bettianne Hart

Charles S. Johnson III

Suzanne Ockleberry

Wayne Kendall

Advocacy For Action, Inc.

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