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Groups: Federal judiciary needs greater professional diversity

Mar. 27, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
Louis Freeh Discusses Investigation Into Penn Stat
Louis Freeh, shown during a 2012 press conference, was an FBI agent before becoming a federal judge, later leaving the bench to become FBI director. A coalition of groups is asking senators to aim for a diversity of professional backgrounds in the federal judiciary. (William Thomas Cain / Getty Images)

The Senate should consider professional diversity when weighing candidates for the federal judiciary, according to a March letter to senators signed by more than 30 labor, civil rights and good government groups.

The decisions judges make are influenced by the nature of their work before attaining a judgeship, and the judiciary should have greater diversity, the groups wrote. While the judiicary already reflects a vibrant racial and gender diversity, it needs a greater range of professional backgrounds.

The letter reads, in part:

A truly diverse judiciary ... not only reflects the gender, ethnic, sexual orientation, disability, and racial diversity of the nation, but also includes judges who come from all corners of the legal profession — and particularly those who have worked in the public interest, representing those whose voices are otherwise rarely heard. This sort of professional diversity both enhances judicial decisionmaking and is essential to the public’s trust in our justice system.

Like all human beings, judges are the product of their background and experiences, including their professional lives before taking the bench. When a judge decides whether a claim is “plausible,” or whether a witness is “credible,” or whether police officers, when they stopped and searched a pedestrian, acted “reasonably,” her determination is necessarily influenced by the nature of her work as a lawyer up to that point. Thus, when judges have varied professional backgrounds, they are equipped to understand the views of each litigant before them, and to render more informed, thorough decisions.

Nan Aron, the president of the Alliance For Justice, which signed the letter, said the administration’s judicial nominees are a step in the right direction but senators can do more.

The letter urges Senators to:

■ Actively recruit and encourage lawyers with professionally diverse backgrounds to apply for judicial vacancies in their home states;

■ Consider whether a candidate’s experience would add needed professional diversity to the judiciary before making a recommendation to the president;

■ Consider professional diversity when assembling judicial selection commissions and support those who have advocated for civil and human rights.

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