As you can read on our website page, diversity, equity, and inclusion are core values of the National Employment Lawyers Association. Those values are essential to the achievement of NELA’s mission, which includes empowering workers’ rights attorneys by promoting a fair judiciary. In other words, NELA is committed to the principle that the playing field for its members, and their clients, is “level” only if the group of people who have the authority to decide on the merits of their claims – the judiciary – is, taken as a whole, “fair.”
And to be “fair,” the judiciary must reflect the diversity of the population of citizens that it serves. The Brennan Center for Justice put it aptly in an article titled, What Research Shows About the Importance of Supreme Court Diversity: “Ensuring demographic and experiential diversity on the bench is not just an appropriate component of judicial selection, it is necessary.” As the article points out, this is true for a number of reasons.
First, because the judiciary is a vital public institution, it is critical for it to have the trust and confidence of the public that it serves, and “a diverse judiciary helps instill trust in the justice system among underrepresented communities.” Second, a “bench that reflects a broad range of life experiences and personal and professional backgrounds also promotes a richer jurisprudence.” Passing judgment on legal claims involves more than just the mechanical exercise of “calling balls and strikes,” those words famously said by Chief Justice Roberts in his confirmation hearing. It demands “good judgment,” and good judgment is without a doubt informed and shaped by a judge’s life experience. The article quotes Mississippi District Court Judge Carlton Reeves, who was the Keynote Speaker at NELA’s 2020 Annual Convention, who said, “Where people come from, what they have lived through, what they do with the time they have, and who they spent that time with — it all matters.” And finally, diversity on the bench promotes role models and combats stereotypes. The only way to attain the goal of such diversity is to ensure that there is a qualified pool of diverse potential nominees, so it is critical that persons of diverse backgrounds and experiences are able to see that they too can have a place at the table and so are inspired to work towards achieving that place.
Now into the third year of his first term in office, President Biden’s record on judicial appointments has resulted in what the Brookings Institution calls an “unparalleled demographic diversification of the federal judiciary.” Before Biden took office, there had never been a Black woman on the Supreme Court, but he of course changed that with the appointment of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Before Biden took office, there had been a total of 8 Black women to serve on the federal courts of appeals. In his first two years in office, President Biden appointed 11 Black women to the courts of appeals out of his 28 circuit court appointments. Of all the judges confirmed in Biden’s first two years, 75% were women, 67% were persons of color, and 47% were women of color. In stark contrast, in President Trump’s four years in office, just 24% of his judicial appointments were women, and only 16% of the judges he appointed were persons of color.
Moreover, the Senate just recently confirmed Biden’s first judicial nominee with a disclosed disability, Jamal Whitehead, to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. NELA supported Whitehead’s appointment with a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and with his confirmation, Whitehead became one of only a handful of the 870 federal judges who are openly living with a disability. NELA also supported the nomination of Charlotte Sweeney, who last year became the first openly LGBT woman to serve on the federal bench west of the Mississippi River.
NELA’s work in promoting a fair judiciary is done by primarily by its Judicial Nominations Committee. If you are interested in being considered for appointment to the federal judiciary or know someone you believe would make a good federal judge whose values are consistent with NELA’s values, please contact NELA’s Executive Director, Jeffrey Mittman, or one of the JNC’s Co-Chairs, Megan O’Malley or Jeffrey Young.