A New York Times article published last February, not long after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, pointed out the urgency and importance, felt by many, of diversifying the United States Supreme Court. Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, is quoted in the article as saying:

“When people talk to diversity they are always looking at race and ethnicity — I look beyond that to diversity of experience.”

Another member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Representative G.K. Butterfield, Democrat of North Carolina, echoed that sentiment:

“The judge should have a diversity of experience in multiple settings and in multiple areas including experiences outside of the law.”

Today, following Justice Stephen Breyer’s announcement that he will retire at the end of the current term, the conversation surrounding his replacement is again focused on diversity. Many are optimistic that President Biden will fulfill his campaign promise to nominate the first Black woman for the highest court in the land, while The Victory Institute is calling for an LGBTQ nominee. Others, such as the two members of Congress mentioned above, want more than an expansion of racial, ethnic, or gender demographics. Additional factors, many argue, should be considered, including socio-economic background, legal training, prior professional roles, geographic or regional outlook, and general life experience. Justices Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan spoke on this topic in 2016, calling for an end to a “cookie-cutter” Supreme Court.

Whomever President Biden nominates to fill the upcoming vacancy on the Court, one thing is clear – the federal court system is designed to be impartial and just. Appointing judges who reflect the lives, values, and experiences of the parties that come before the court is fundamental to a system that honors the spirit and traditions of the judicial body.

For further reading on diversity and inclusion in the federal court system, including the United States Supreme Court (and state Supreme Courts), please see the following:

Supreme Court

Federal Courts

Supreme Court Bar

  • The Echo Chamber: A Small Group of Lawyers and its Outsized Influence at the Supreme Court – A Reuters Special Report (2014)

State Supreme Courts