Does the 11th Circuit Bench Have a Diversity Problem?

By William Peacock, Esq. on October 30, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Last month, Sen. Marco Rubio, in a move some say was motivated by politics and the candidate's sexual orientation, used his blue slip privileges to reverse course on a district court judicial nominee that he previously approved. The move, unsurprisingly, was criticized by many.

In a reaction piece, Leslie Proll, the director of the D.C. Office of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund criticized the move before shifting her focus to a different, albeit related issue: diversity on the Court of Appeals bench. She argues that the bench, which has only a single African-American judge, has a problem with diversity, especially considering the member states' demographics (25 percent African-American).

Let's take a look, shall we?

Past Diversity

According to Proll, since the court's inception in 1981, there have only been two African-American judges on the court, with former Chief Judge Joseph W. Hatchett being replaced by his former clerk, Charles R. Wilson. Judge Hatchett was the Chief Judge of the Eleventh Circuit for nearly three years before retiring to private practice.

Though the court has also had three former female judges, Proll's focus in her call for diversity is on African-American judges, stating, "the Eleventh Circuit should have more than one African-American jurist by this time."

Current Makeup

We've talked a lot about the bench's composition lately, mostly due to the large number of vacancies and stalled nominations. After the retirement of Judge Rosemary Barkett one month ago, the court has three empty seats out of twelve total.

Out of the nine filled seats, five are held by Caucasian males, two are held by Caucasian females (including Obama-appointee Judge Beverly B. Martin), another is held by fellow Obama-appointee Judge Adalberto Jordan, (born in Cuba), and finally, there is Judge Wilson, the sole African-American on the Eleventh Circuit.

Future Makeup

There are currently three vacancies. Former Chief Judge Joel Dubina has stated that he plans to take senior status once the vacancies are taken care of, but is holding off out of consideration for his fellow judges. Judge Gerald Tjoflat, another former chief, is nearing his 84th birthday.

Needless to say, the composition of the court, once the vacancies are finally filled, will look very different than it does today. And if diversity is the goal, Proll should be happy that President Obama is the one making the call.

His administration last month released an infographic touting the diversity of his nominees, including confirmed judges (41 percent female, 16 percent African-American, 13 percent Hispanic, and 8 percent Asian-American) and those awaiting confirmation (49 percent female, 23 percent African-American).

Editor's Note, November 20, 2013: This post has been updated to clarify that Judge Frank Hull is one of two female judges sitting on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

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