Diversity on the Federal Bench
The federal judiciary is overwhelmingly dominated by judges who are white and male, and that has changed very little in the past four years, according to statistics from the Federal Judicial Center, the research and educational arm of the U.S. court system.
As of July 1, 2021, there were 1,381 sitting federal judges nationwide. Nearly four out of five of those judges (79.7%) were white. That’s a slight decrease from 79.9% in 2016. Overall, 1,101 federal judges identified as white and seven others identified themselves as partially white. As recently as 1992, more than 90% of federal judges were white.
Meanwhile, the percentage of Blacks on the federal bench has dropped slightly – from 10.8% in 2016 to 9.8% in 2021. Overall, 136 federal judges identified as Black and seven identified as partially Black. The first African American federal judge took office in 1945.
The percentage of Asian Americans in the federal judiciary rose slightly – from 2% in 2016 to 2.8% in 2021. Thirty-eight federal judges nationwide identified as Asian American and four others identified as partially Asian. One identified as Chaldean and one as Pakistani. The first Asian American federal judge was appointed in 1971.
The percentage of federal judges who are Hispanic was 6.3% in 2021 – a slight decrease from 6.6% in 2016. Eighty-seven federal judges identified as Hispanic and nine others identified as partially Hispanic, as of July 1, 2021. The first Hispanic federal judge took office in 1961.
Two federal judges are Native American. That is just one-tenth of 1% of all federal judges and the number has not changed since 2014. Nationally, 1.3% of the U.S. population is Native American. The first Native American federal judge took office in 1979.
Meanwhile, the percentage of female federal judges grew slightly, from 25.9% in 2016 to 27.8% in 2021. The first female federal judge was appointed in 1928.
New Judges 2017 - 2020
During the past four years, from 2017 through 2020, the U.S. Senate confirmed 229 federal judges. Of those, 192 (84%) were white, 13 (6%) were Asian American, nine (4%) were Black and nine (4%) were Hispanic, according to the Federal Judicial Center, the research and educational arm of the U.S. court system. None were Native American. Over the same four years, 174 of the people confirmed to federal judgeships (76%) were men and 55 (24%) were women.
Historically, very few women were confirmed to the federal bench before the 1970s. For example, only four of the 332 federal judges confirmed in the 1960s were women. The number of confirmed female judges grew steadily after that. By the 1990s, 25% of all federal judges confirmed in that decade were women.
Similarly, the number of judges of color confirmed as federal judges has grown substantially since the 1940s. In the 1940s and ‘50s, only three federal judges confirmed by the Senate were Black. Since Jan. 1, 2010, 12% of all judges confirmed have been Black, while 73% were white, 7% Hispanic and 6% Asian American. One judge was Native American.
The Federal Judicial Center also began tracking judges of mixed race and ethnicity in recent years. For example, among the 541 federal judges confirmed since Jan. 1, 2010, eight were of mixed race or ethnicity.
Diversity on State Supreme Courts
White men are more heavily represented among justices of the 50 top state courts than they are in the population overall, according to a 2021 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
Across all state high courts, 17% percent of justices are Black, Latino, Asian American or Native American. By contrast, people of color make up 40% of the U.S. population.
Also, 62% of all state supreme court justices are male, compared with 49% of the U.S. population.
The study found 22 states that have no justices that publicly identify as a person of color on their highest courts. In one state – Nevada – a majority of the population (51%) is of color, but all seven justices are white.
There are no Black justices in 28 states, no Hispanic justices in 40 states, no Asian American justices in 44 states and no Native American justices in 47 states.
The study found that three of the four states with the largest Native American populations do not have a Native American justice (Arizona, California and Texas). And three of the five states with the largest Asian American populations do not have any Asian American justices (New Jersey, New York and Texas).
Over the past 14 months (February 2020 to April 2021), 41 new justices took office, but there was little change in overall demographics. Thirty of the 41 new justices (73%) were white, including in 17 states where people of color are at least 20% of the population.