When There Are 50: Pressure Mounts For President Biden To aid Diversifying The Judiciary
When There Are 50: Pressure Mounts For President Biden To Assist Diversifying The Judiciary
President Biden ran on promises that he’d do his part to diversify this nation’s judiciary. And he actually did! Federally, that is. Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to and confirmation for SCOTUS has been a huge leap forward in this move toward equity; it is part of a bigger move of making the judiciary more representative of the folks it presides over. But what about at the state level? Sure, there’s the whole “Federalism” thing, but he at least said a few things about diversifying the judiciary in each of the 50 states, right?
That’s what Rev. Al Sharpton and Martin Luther King III think, at least. The two penned an open letter to President Biden asking him to start supporting judicial diversity across the country, and what better spot to start than his home state of Delaware? We asked them a few questions about the significance of diversifying state courts and this is what they had to say.
Chris Williams (CW): What’s the importance of having a diverse jury?
Rev. Al Sharpton: I think you’ve got to have a diversity in the courts, in order to assure that you are not dealing in a time in America where only certain people could serve on the bench or serve on juries. And when you look at the Chancery Court and see that that does not reflect the population in Delaware, which is 40% people of color, and the president comes from that state, I think the president has done a significant job in diversity. He put a Black woman on the Supreme Court, as he promised he would. I was at the ceremony and he talked about, in the ceremony, how he’s appointed more Blacks and people of color to the federal bench and the other presidents before him combined. I just would like to see him urge the governors in his home state to do what he’s done nationally.
Martin Luther King III: [T]his is an opportunity for a governor to set a tone so that other governors might say, “You know what? This makes sense at this time in the history.” It should have already happened, quite frankly, but the fact of the matter is we’re still pushing to get equality in the system of justice… [W]e call it a criminal justice system. It is a criminal system, but it’s not just. Certainly not for Black, not for Latinos and Hispanics, not for people of color, and probably not even for poor white folk. It works if you have money and resources so that you can acquire the best legal persons to represent you. But the masses of people and particularly it disproportionately does not work for Black and brown people.
CW: For the average person whose experience with diversity is probably just people they meet walking down the street or attending the high school they went to, what’s something that they might not be aware of that they should be when it comes to having these discussions about race and equity?
Rev. Al Sharpton: I think that we’ve got to be intentional about diversity, and start having people from the college level on, to deal with how we develop a pipeline for diversity. But we should not think that it’s going to be a something that will happen by osmosis, it has to be intentional. Where I’ve been involved in the private sector and the public sector, and seen progress with diversity, is when people were committed to it.
Martin Luther King III: So I think that people inherently really do realize that the system is skewed and it is not… What they haven’t translated it down to is the fact of the matter is that every year we have an election. Most people vote for president, they may vote for governors, and may vote for mayors, some city council members, but they rarely know who the judges are, and they don’t even vote because there’s a lack of information. And maybe it hasn’t translated that I need to get another kind of person on the courts who may understand my plight. And so that is where I think the breakdown partially occurs. But not just the judges. It’s also the district attorneys, who people don’t necessarily always vote on also, understanding that he or she is going to be the chief prosecutor in that county. And again, if he or she doesn’t understand your culture, they may… They’ve got guidelines that they have to go by with the law, but they also have the latitude to say, “We’re going to recommend a sentence of six months and maybe not six years.” Because what has historically happened is when it comes to communities of color, the sentences that are recommended are far longer than the sentences that are recommended oftentimes for whites. Just like policemen in the Black community. And this is probably universal, although I don’t have the statistics. What I know over the years is when Black children are picked up, they take them to jail, juvenile. When white children are picked up or something, they generally take them home to their parents. So the white kid doesn’t end up getting… I mean, unless it’s a heinous crime, like killing or something. That’s pretty much everybody who’s doing those kind of crimes goes to jail.
CW: Sometimes they go to Burger King first.
Martin Luther King III: We’ve seen that happen with Dylann Roof, as an example. So you’re right. I mean, there’s a totally different orientation and standard. And the standard, whatever it is, just needs to be the same for everyone, that most people want fairness. But yet again, we don’t always translate that in the community as, “Okay, I need to vote for a judge because the judge is going to determine the fate of my community.” And oftentimes those judges have been white, so they may not understand. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people, they just don’t have the experience to understand and have some degree of empathy when it comes to our community, because they are programmed, just like the system programs the fact that police will say, well… And you have all these pundits who are saying things like, “Well, Black folk are committing all the crimes. That’s why we are arresting them.”
Now, there’s a lot of crime everywhere right now, and there are a lot of Black folk who are involved in crimes, but as I said, there are white folk that are involved in crimes too, but oftentimes they get a different standard. So diversifying the courts at the state level can help to bring about a change. And it’s good for the nation. It really is good for everybody. I mean, I just think that diversity has made our nation, whatever wonderful things that we’ve done, part of it has been because there’s been diversity and opportunity.
Turn the page to read Rev. Sharpton and MLK III’s open letter to President Biden.
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor MemelordTM in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by tweet at @WritesForRent.