On June 17, the Senate made US history when two gay judges were confirmed to the federal bench in one day.
Judge Staci Yandle was confirmed to the District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, became not only the court’s first African-American judge, but also Illinois’ first openly gay lifetime-appointed federal judge.
Judge Darrin Gayles, who was confirmed for the District Court for the Southern District of Florida, became the first openly gay African-American man appointed to federal judge for life in United States history.
In the process, President Barack Obama set a record of his own—he has officially appointed more female judges than any other US president. The previous record-holder was President Bill Clinton.
Activist groups applauded the confirmations, but as Lambda Legal pointed out in a press release, “Currently, the judicial system is overwhelmingly homogeneous, both at the federal and state levels. This reflects the historical legacy of exclusion of men of color and all women from the legal profession, which we as a society are just beginning to correct.”
It notes “the numbers on overall judicial diversity are appalling,” given that only 6 to 35 percent of the judiciary in each state are female, and 0 to 21 percent are judges of color. At the federal level, only one-third of the judiciary are women, and out of thirteen federal courts of appeals, seven do not have a single woman of color.
Lambda Legal explains that this matters because “When the bench better reflects the diversity of court users, there will be much greater empathy and range of perspectives within the judiciary, resulting in greater fairness and justice overall. For example, a recent study found that federal appellate judges who have a daughter are seven percent more likely to rule in a way that upholds reproductive rights and gender justice; and the impact of having a daughter on judicial decision making was found to be the greatest among Republican male judges.
“True judicial diversity not only means more people of color and women on the bench, although that is critically important. It also means the judiciary should reflect the diversity of our communities in terms of sexuality, gender identity, HIV status, disabilities, language, ethnicity, immigration, religious and political affiliations, and areas of legal expertise.”