In Florida, there are 974 judgeships, and 83.7% are white, 8.8% are Hispanic, and 6.5% are Black. These are very disturbing facts, because the majority of judges are white males, and they reflect the governor’s ideology and mind-set. Florida is a growing population with a very diverse mix of cultures, and the judges should reflect the communities they serve.
Governor Jeb Bush appointed 22 Black juries in Florida, the most of any of his colleagues, including Peggy Quince, the first black female ever appointed to the Florida Supreme Court. In the last four years, Governor Scott has only appointed 9 Black judges of the 159 that he has appointed. This is a record that the entire state should be disappointed and appalled, because now there should be more qualified Black attorneys than ever before.
As a result of the 9 Black appointments by Scott, 6 serve on lower court benches that handle traffic and misdemeanor cases, or compensation claims for job related injuries. He has picked only three to serve on circuit courts, where felony and jury trials take place.
As there are huge rallies and protest across the country, there is a need for a strategic plan that can make fundamental changes in the judicial system. In many of the states across the country, there are no minorities on its judges nominating panels. The job of the nominating boards and commissions is to screen applicants for judges, and send recommendations to the governor.
The lack of minority jurists is nothing new, and in 1990 four of the five appellate courts had no minority jurists at all. The Florida Supreme Court in the same year concluded that minorities were significantly under-represented, and at the time not a single African American attorney served on the state’s 22 nominating panels. Ten years later, it was found minority trial court judges had increased to 11.4%, and district courts of appeal had risen from 3.5% to 14.7%.
These numbers changed because Governors Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush believed that Florida would be better served by having a diversified judiciary. Diversity brings a broader range of human ideas and enhances the quality and fairness of judicial decision-making.
Scott says he believes in judicial diversity, but his four year record reflects a disturbing trend of less Black appointments than his predecessors. Ultimately, the bucks stops with Scott, and he determines the makeup of the judges nominating panels. If the demonstrators and protesters want to see a change in the courts, there must be a major increase of minority attorneys on the judges nominating commissions in Florida.
It is time for the Florida Bar officials to eliminate any discrimination in Florida, by putting pressure on Governor Scott to improve his numbers on Black judges’ appointments in the courts. The demonstrators and the protesters can help make this change a reality in Florida, by making demands on Governor Scott to make Black judges appointments a priority in his second term in office.