Courts & the Law, News

In midst of merit selection talk, snapshot of demographic data shows NC judges are overwhelmingly white

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s chief of staff, Jim Blaine, presented some district court judges last week with a potential merit selection plan.

The biggest concern raised at the board of governor’s Friday meeting for the NC Association of District Court Judges was what impact such a plan would have on racial diversity on the bench.

Research on judicial selection systems and diversity shows that appointive systems fare no worse than elective ones — “they have both failed to produce judiciaries that reflect the populations they serve,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Some district court judges expressed concern at Friday’s meeting not that minorities wouldn’t be qualified through a merit selection process, but that they likely wouldn’t have the same contacts for recruitment as white judicial candidates.

The Brennan Center wrote in a report that to have any claim to legitimacy, a 21st century method of judicial selection must be more effective in delivering a judiciary that reflects diverse communities.

“Reformers should explore ways to bring a diverse array of stakeholders into the selection process,” the report states. “It is necessary that the process be inclusive: The courts are too important to be left only to lawyers and a small group of interested parties.”

Other research on the subject confirms that the merit selection processes impact on racial diversity depends on nominating commissions’ diversity and governors’ willingness to appoint minorities.

The overall reaction North Carolina judges have to a potential merit selection process is not yet known, as consideration of such a plan has still not been publicly discussed by legislators. State Supreme Court Justice Mark Martin announced earlier this summer that he would be in support of merit selection.

Either way, current data from the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) shows that the makeup of the state’s bench does not represent the diverse communities living in North Carolina. Here is a snapshot of the demographic makeup of the state’s judges:

Of North Carolina’s 403 judges, 78 percent are white, according to data from the AOC. To compare, only 64 percent of North Carolina’s population is white.

Side note: If that percentage sounds familiar to you, it’s because the NC Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center recently found that 78 percent of the General Assembly is also white.

North Carolina’s judges are made up of 19 percent Black or African American individuals. The state’s Black or African American population is 22 percent.

The diversity statistics drop significantly from there. Hispanic or Latino judges only make up .5 percent of the state’s bench, compared to 9 percent of the state’s overall population. American Indian or Alaskan native judges make up 1 percent of the state’s bench, compared to about 2 percent of the state’s population.

There is only one Asian judge, which makes up .2 percent of the bench, compared to North Carolina’s Asian population at 3 percent.

The population data is based on the 2015 U.S. Census data and the percentages used were rounded up to the nearest whole number.

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