Report Reveals State Court Judges Disproportionately White and Male

Washington, D.C. – The majority of state court systems are failing at adequately reflecting the diversity of the populations they serve, according to a new report authored by law professors Tracey E. George and Albert H. Yoon and released today by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS).  The report, titled The Gavel Gap: Who Sits in Judgement at State Courts?, presents original research that demonstrates the woeful lack of minority and female representation among state judges. The data set, collected for the first time in a comprehensive and systematic manner, compiles the race, ethnicity, and gender of 10,000 sitting judges on state courts of general jurisdiction, ranging from trial courts to state supreme courts.

Professors George and Yoon examined the biographical information of judges in 51 jurisdictions across the country, and compared the percentage of women and minorities on each state judicial bench to that of the state’s general population. The states were then graded based on how closely their benches reflected their populations, with states close to or at parity receiving an A, and states with a representation gap of 40% or more given an F. Highlights from the findings include:

  • Forty-one (41) out of the 51 state judiciaries studied received either a D or F grade;
  • White men are twice as represented on state judiciaries (approximately 58%) as in the general population (30%);
  • Women are only 30% of state judges, yet they are 51% of the general population; and
  • People of color make up just 20% of state judges, although they are 38% of the general population.

“The vast majority of Americans’ interactions with the judicial system, ranging from traffic violations to criminal proceedings, happen in state courts,” said Professor Tracey E. George of Vanderbilt University, one of the co-authors of the report. “When people do not see themselves represented in their community leadership, when the vast majority of judges cannot relate to the lived experience of those they serve—this is a problem. It creates a mistrust of judges, and propagates the mystery surrounding the court system. For the first time, we have the data we need to identify and address this serious problem.”

More information on the report methodology can be found here.