Lambda Legal and American Constitution Society Find States Fail to Measure the Diversity of Judges

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June 21, 2017

States fail to collect basic information on the demographic and professional backgrounds of state judges, according to a new report released today by Lambda Legal and the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS).

No state collects data across all diversity categories, including race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability status, as well as professional background.

In the 35-page report, Diversity Counts: Why States Should Measure the Diversity of Their Judges and How They Can Do It, researchers call on key decision-makers to collect and release judicial diversity data including the demographic and professional backgrounds of state judges and judicial candidates.

“States can’t improve diversity on the bench if they don’t know the ways in which diversity is lacking,” said Yuvraj Joshi, Lambda Legal Fair Courts Project Fellow and the author of the report. “That’s why we need better data about state judges. We looked across the nation, from California to New Jersey to Georgia and Texas, to find best practices that should make it easier for every state to measure the diversity of its judges.”

“In a 2012 survey, Lambda Legal found that nearly a fifth of its LGBT respondents reported hearing a judge, attorney or other court employee make negative comments about a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” noted Eric Lesh, Lambda Legal Fair Courts Project Director. “It is critical that states collect and release demographic data on the judiciary for our courts to render fair decisions and be seen as legitimate.” 

“Just like our 2016 Gavel Gap study documenting the underrepresentation of women and minorities on the state bench, this report underscores the need for a more diverse lawyer-to-judge pipeline,” said ACS President Caroline Fredrickson. “States can and should learn about better judicial data collection and sharing from this report.”

The report:

  • Explains why diversity on courts matters, what we know about diversity on state courts, and why states should prioritize collecting judicial diversity data and making it available to the public, policymakers and journalists.
  • Reports the findings of a new study by researcher Liz Seaton that examines whether and how 12 states collect and disclose judicial diversity data. The report divides these 12 states into three tiers:
  1. Tier One includes states that systematically collect and publicly disclose data: California, Georgia, New Jersey and Texas.
  2. Tier Two includes states that systematically collect data and disclose it upon request: Arizona, Maryland, New York, Oregon, and Wisconsin.
  3. Tier Three includes states that either do not systematically collect data or do not disclose it: Kansas, Ohio and Tennessee.
  • Charts the path to improved collection and release of judicial diversity data by looking to the experiences of nine states featured in this report that do collect judicial diversity data.
  • Takes a closer look at two states (California and New York) where judicial diversity data including gender identity and sexual orientation is available, and offers detailed guidance on how states can gather and disseminate data on these often overlooked categories.
  • Sets out specific recommendations directed at those who can play a role in collecting and disclosing data, such as governors’ offices, agencies responsible for evaluation of judicial candidates, administrative offices of the courts, and state bar associations.

Diversity Counts builds on previous research released by Lambda Legal and the American Constitution Society. Lambda Legal report Justice Out of Balance, published last year, examined all cases involving LGBT issues in state high courts since 2003 and found that the election of judges and stunning lack of diversity on state courts threaten the rights of the LGBT community. American Constitution Society report Gavel Gap, also published last year, examined the gender, racial, and ethnic composition of state courts and found that courts are not representative of the people whom they serve.