Emphasizing a diverse bench

first_imgEmphasizing a diverse bench Emphasizing a diverse bench Mark D. Killian Managing Editor Gov. Jeb Bush says there is a need for greater judicial diversity on Florida’s bench and asked newly appointed members of the state’s judicial nominating commissions to consider diversity when nominating candidates for judgeships. Bush made those comments at a day-long training session for new JNC commissioners in Tallahassee August 14. Linda Sweeting, of Ft. Lauderdale and a member of the Bar’s JNC Procedures Committee, has studied gender, racial, and ethnic balance in Florida courts and told the commissioners it is up to them to nominate more blacks, Hispanics, and women. “Why is diversity important?” Sweeting asked. “Because many studies show it all boils down to the public’s perception of fairness. That is why we are still discussing diversity.” Sweeting said Gov. Bush has done much to help diversify Florida’s courts. She said of Bush’s 104 judicial appointments, 27.9 percent have been women, 13.4 percent have been African American, and 11.6 have been Hispanic. “Clearly, Gov. Bush has furthered the work in diversifying our judiciary,” Sweeting said, adding, however, “the obstacles we face in achieving diversity are great.” One reason is that the population of the state as a whole is much more diverse than the lawyer pool from which judges are chosen. While only 65.4 percent of Florida’s population is white, 89 percent of The Florida Bar is white, Sweeting said. However, she said, the makeup of Florida’s judges breaks down very similarly to that of the Bar. Eighty-nine percent of the state’s judges are white, equal to that of the Bar. Sweeting said the number of black judges actually exceeds their representation in the Bar. While 6.7 percent of Florida’s judges are African American, only 2 percent of Bar members are black. Hispanic judges now make up 5.5 percent of the judiciary compared with 8 percent of the Bar, and 24 percent of the judges are women, compared with 28 percent of the Bar. Sweeting also noted that while the number of Hispanic lawyers continues to grow, the percentage of black lawyers in Florida has stagnated at 2 percent over the past several years. “The demographics of the Bar somewhat limit our efforts at diversity, and therein lies the dilemma,” Sweeting said. Sweeting also found 47 percent of the judicial nominating slates sent to Bush by the JNCs to fill the 104 vacant judgeships he has filled were made up of entirely white nominees, and almost 20 percent of those contained only white male nominees. Sweeting, however, was quick to note that that’s not to say Bush always appoints minorities when given the chance. “Even in instances where Gov. Bush has been given a diverse slate of nominees he has not always made the minority appointment or always made the female appointment,” Sweeting said. “So it is clear that he is not set in filling a quota — as some people have criticized. He is looking for the most qualified candidates.” Sweeting said the 11th Circuit in Dade County has the lowest percentage of white male judges at 44 percent, while the Third Circuit in rural North Florida has a 100-percent white male bench. Eleven of the 20 circuits have no Hispanic judges, and three of the 20 circuits have no black judges, she added. “I encourage you or even challenge you to ask yourselves why and what can you do to affect change,” Sweeting said, adding that the state is becoming more diverse every year. “Do not perpetuate the status quo. Your role is critical. The opportunity is great.” September 1, 2001 Managing Editor Regular Newslast_img

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