Judges should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. This is not a dream, whimsical illusion, or ideological concept. It is a founding principle set forth by the Arizona Constitution, Article VI, Section 37(C). The primary consideration being merit, the governor “shall consider the diversity of the state’s population” in appointing judges to the appellate courts statewide, including the Supreme Court, and trial court judges in Coconino, Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties.
In 1992, Arizona voters approved Proposition 109, which called for the adoption of a process for evaluating the performance of the judiciary. The process, which we now know as “merit selection” has been the way forward for the Arizona judiciary for 27 years.
One of the reasons Arizona voters chose a merit-based selection of certain judges (instead of an election-based selection of certain judges) was to try to increase diversity of the bench. Did it work? Where are we now 27 years later? And what more can we do?
For a more complete analysis of where we are now, read the complete Bench Diversity Project: Second Annual Report, a joint effort of the Arizona Supreme Court Commission on Minorities in the Judiciary and the Administrative Offices of the Courts. This report, by lead author Professor Paul Bennet of the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona, highlights many important findings including the following:
- The Arizona State Court Judiciary does not reflect the categorical diversity of the state’s population. Whites are significantly over-represented on the bench. Minorities are under-represented.
- At all levels of court, Hispanics are significantly under-represented in the Arizona Judiciary.
- In both Juvenile Courts and Criminal Courts, there are significant disparities between the diversity of judicial officers and the populations they serve.
- Women continue to be underrepresented on the Bench in all courts, except for Superior Court commissioners where more women than men serve as judicial officers.
- Different courts show different diversity. Limited jurisdiction courts tend to be more diverse. Superior Court commissioners show much greater gender inclusion but are over 90% white.
This history and these facts propel and inform the Los Abogados Appointments committee. The appointments Committee promotes the advancement of our members and other diverse candidates to the judiciary and other leadership positions in the legal community. The Committee provides confidential mentorship and guidance to candidates, including connecting members with judges and conducting mock interviews. Los Abogados works to understand and assist judicial selection committees at all stages, including the nominating commissions and the Governor’s administration.
In addition, our committee hosts CLEs and judicial mentoring programs. This year we will be publishing a video series highlighting various pathways to the bench. Special thanks to Judge John Lopez (Arizona Supreme Court), Judge James Beene (Arizona Supreme Court), Judge Maria Elena Cruz (Arizona Court of Appeals), Judge Daniel Collins (U.S. Bankruptcy Court), Judge John Tuchi (U.S. District Court), Judge Sara Agne (Superior Court), and Judge Enrique Medina Ochoa (Justice of the Peace), for their participation in this important endeavor. I am proud to Co-Chair William Knight with the Appointment Committee. Shayna Fernandez Watts