Two Women of Color Won State Supreme Court Races—and Sadly, That’s Progress
This week, civil rights attorney Anita Earls in North Carolina and appellate judge Melody Stewart in Ohio became the first non-incumbent women of color to win a state supreme court election in at least 18 years—and Stewart the first African-American woman ever elected to the Ohio Supreme Court. It’s a breakthrough for judicial diversity, but it also reveals just how little progress we’ve made in making the bench reflect the communities they serve.
With intense political contests up and down the ballot this year, you’d be forgiven for missing that 29 states held elections for their state supreme courts Tuesday. While these courts don’t draw the same headlines as the U.S. Supreme Court, they’re just as likely to impact our lives. Ninety-five percent of all cases are filed in state court, and state supreme courts are the final word for most state law issues, ruling on everything from environmental regulations to reproductive rights.
That’s partly why the lack of diversity is so appalling. In 2016, nearly half of all state supreme courts did not have a single justice of color – and nearly 70 percent did not have a single woman of color serving as a justice. This lack of diverse perspectives can impoverish judicial decision-making and harm public confidence in the objectivity and fairness of the judicial system.
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Author: By Alicia Bannon Laila Robbins