SACRAMENTO – Five of Gov. Jerry Brown’s 74 judicial appointments in 2015 identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Twenty-eight are women – 25 are minorities.
In total, 35 percent of judicial applicants and 39 percent of appointees last year identified themselves as non-white, according to the annual demographic data released in February.
Gov. Edmund Brown
Where an individual may only ever encounter one judge and a lawyer will never see all of them, the data offers a broader view of the judicial system and shows just how diverse the courts are, Benjamin Shatz, an attorney in Los Angeles, told the Northern California Record.
“The court system is a public system that belongs to the public and serves the public," Shatz said. "So there’s a belief in many quarters that it should look like the public."
Take, for example, the appellate courts in Southern California that Shatz follows closely on his blog, Southern California Appellate News, including the 2nd and 4th District Courts of Appeal, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court.
“Those are higher-profile positions, so it's interesting to see how diversity factors into that," Shatz said. "It's quite a diverse group. You look at that panel and say, that's California, to a certain extent. That's not an accident. There is an intentionality for this – not that it's driving an appointment… I think probably any governor in California is going to be focused on that as one factor in appointments.”
Shatz saw firsthand the importance of this diversity when he brought a group of inner-city high school students to the Court of Appeal in Los Angeles, where they would watch a case and then talk about it with the judges and lawyers. At the courthouse, the group stopped to look at the wall of pictures of the sitting justices, Shatz said. Gazing at the 32 photographs, the black students pointed out each of the black justices.
It’s important that they see reflections of themselves in those positions, Shatz said.
The data also offers a view of Brown’s judicial appointments since 2011. He’s appointed 311 judges in four years. Many of his appointments included notable firsts. Marsha G. Slough, the first openly gay justice in the history of the 4th District Court of Appeal; Paul Lo, the first Hmong-American judge ever appointed in the country; and Halim Dhanidina, the first American Muslim judge ever appointed in California are just three of many non-white, openly gay and female judges who made history when they were appointed to courts all over the state.
The length of a judge’s career can mean changing the makeup of the courts is gradual, but it’s happening every year, Shatz said.
“I think the pace of the change is not so glacial that it can't be noticed over the course of, say, a decade,” he said. “I think there are enough appointments happening every year that it adds up.”