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Report Finds Alabama State Courts Do Not Mirror Population

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY— A first-of-its-kind quantitative report found that Alabama’s court system is failing to adequately represent the diversity of the State’s population. The report entitled, The Gavel Gap: Who Sits in Judgement at State Courts?, was authored by law professors Tracey E. George and Albert H. Yoon, and published by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS).

Alabama received an F with a Gavel Gap of – 47 and ranks 32 nationally, because State Court Judges are disproportional when compared with the overall population.

The Gavel Gap report used a data set which compiled the race, ethnicity and gender of 10,000 sitting judges on state courts of general jurisdiction.

“The vast majority of Americans’ interactions with the judicial system, ranging from traffic violations to criminal proceedings, happen in state courts,” said Professor George of Vanderbilt University, one of the co-authors of the report.

“When people do not see themselves represented in their community leadership, when the vast majority of judges cannot relate to the lived experience of those they serve. —this is a problem. It creates a mistrust of judges, and propagates the mystery surrounding the court system. For the first time, we have the data we need to identify and address this serious problem.”

Currently every elected constitutional officer of the State, is a white republican, with a vast supermajority in the State legislature.

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The State’s population is 18 percent women of color, 16 percent men of color, 34 percent white women and 32 percent white men. However, in State courts, only 6 percent are women of color, 14 percent men of color, 16 percent white women and 64 percent white males.

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Women represent over half of the population, but less than a third of State judges.

People of color are almost 40 percent of the population, but less than 20 are represented on the court. The report reveals Alabama State court judges are disproportionately white and male, which Professor George says is a problem because “It creates a mistrust of judges, and propagates the mystery surrounding the court system. For the first time, we have the data we need to identify and address this serious problem.”

The study found that with 90 percent of US cases tried in state courts, diversity matters.

Alabama is one of 26 states to receive a failing grade, because of its lack of gender and racial diversity on State Courts. On average, Alabama’s judiciaries are 47 percent less diverse than the State population.

The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS), founded in 2001, one of the nation’s leading progressive legal organizations, is a rapidly growing network of lawyers, law students, scholars, judges, policymakers and other concerned individuals dedicated to making the law a force to improve lives of all people.

For more information about the organization or to locate one of the more than 200 lawyer and law student chapters in 48 states, please visit www.acslaw.org.

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