Judiciary

NCWBA is devoted to promoting the fair and equal administration of justice, and as members of the legal profession it is our duty to promote integrity and equality in the courts.  Women’s bar associations know that it makes a difference to everyone – in the justice system and in society at large – when women, persons of color, and individuals from every walk of life serve as judges and are otherwise well represented at every level in the courts.  NCWBA and its members have developed programs to advocate for diversity in the courts, to encourage and mentor diverse candidates who may be interested in joining or advancing within the judiciary, and to participate as appropriate in the screening and review of the qualifications of candidates for judicial office.

Supporting Diversity in the Courts

Developing a more diverse bench means encouraging girls to imagine themselves as judges, encouraging older students to prepare themselves for law study, and assisting law students and new lawyers to launch careers that will ensure that they are prepared to be the best possible jurists.  Simply having the desire and the preparation to be a judge is not enough, however.  It is essential to find savvy mentors and reliable information about how to get appointed or elected.  Women’s bar associations are well positioned to be of assistance at every step in the process.  By organizing formal and informal programs and networks, and by providing links to relevant information on their websites and via social media, women’s bar associations make a difference in developing a diverse judiciary.

Here are some examples of women’s bar programs that affirmatively advocate for increased diversity on the bench and provide guidance to women and other underrepresented groups on the process and requirements for attaining a judicial position:

  • Lawyers Club of San Diego – Sample letter to the Governor of California stressing the importance of having women on the judiciary and offering to provide support on identifying qualified potential candidates.
  • National Association of Women Judges’ Outreach Programs – including its “From the Bar to the Bench” initiative, which provide materials and ideas for programs to develop the pipeline of women for the judiciary; the “Color of Justice Program,” which encourages girls and minorities of all age levels to consider legal and judicial careers; and the “Informed Voters – Fair Judges Project,” which strives to increase citizen knowledge concerning our judicial system, promote an independent judiciary, and ensure fair and impartial courts.
  • California Women Lawyers’ program, “So You Want to be a Judge,” which received NCWBA’s 2009 Outstanding Member Program Award, provides invaluable insights into the protocols in California for the selection of judges, demystifies the judicial application process, and seeks to increase participants’ chances of appointment.
  • For up-to-date information about appointment to the federal bench, the National Women’s Law Center is an essential resource.
  • The Infinity Project, which received the NCWBA’s 2010 Public Service Award, provides a model for active encouragement and information sharing on how to get more diversity on the bench in the Eighth Circuit. Information about this project can be found in a brief, entertaining, and informative TedTalk by Professor Sally Kenney on the topic Why We Have Too Few Women Judges, in which she discusses the Infinity Project. For information on current federal judicial vacancies and pending nominees, the American Constitution Society provides an up-to-date resource. as does the Alliance for Justice.
  • The Gavel Gap provides statistics on state court judges. What other services do women’s bar associations provide to their members who are interested in increasing diversity on the bench or who are themselves interested in becoming a judge? See sample programs at the websites of the member groups listed below, or check the website of your local women’s bar!

    Screening of Candidates for Judicial Office

    Many bar organizations, including associations that are NCWBA members, conduct formal screening of candidates for judicial office and/or join with other bar groups to do so jointly within their jurisdiction.  They undertake this time-consuming and important task to ensure not only that courts are comprised of a diverse range of individuals, but also to ensure that nominees for judicial office have appropriate experience, integrity, a judicial temperament, and an open mind to ensure that they will follow the law and not any preconceived litmus tests.

    • NCWBA does not itself conduct judicial screenings, but it does promote diversity in the profession and in the courts through advocacy at the national level, and it provides guidance and best practices to member organizations that do conduct judicial screenings. For more information, review our “NCWBA Guidelines on Judicial Nominations,” which includes the following principles:
      • As the leading organization representing women’s bar associations and organizations across the United States, NCWBA … represent(s) tens of thousands of attorneys…. We … support the principles that the law, including those who practice law and those who are members of the judiciary at every level, must reflect and represent the diverse communities and interests of all the people they serve.
      • It is both appropriate and important that NCWBA be heard when it learns that a particular jurisdiction has few or no women judges, judges of color, or judges with diverse life experiences from the breadth of our national experience. In such instances, NCWBA is authorized and empowered by its charter to communicate the importance of diversity and inclusion at every level of the judiciary in state and federal courts. 
      • Similarly, given the critical importance of the U.S. Supreme Court to the nation, NCWBA is well within its mandate to act when individuals being considered for nomination to that court do not include a diverse group of potential candidates, when a nominee to that court is not given a hearing on his/her nomination, or in other situations where the integrity of the judiciary or judicial processes are at stake.
    • Here are links to the websites of representative bar associations that do conduct judicial screenings, with information about their guidelines and procedures that can serve as a model for similar initiatives:

        White House Judicial Vacancy Briefing, May 7, 2012NCWBA President Pam Berman (right) and past NCWBA presidents Mary Sharp and Cezy Collins

    White House Judicial Vacancy Briefing, May 7, 2012 NCWBA President Pam Berman (right) and past NCWBA presidents Mary Sharp and Cezy Collins