Despite women making up 52 percent of the population, fewer than 46 percent of judges in Manhattan and Bronx courts are female, according to a new report from the New York State Bar Association.
Now for the bad news: That number up there? It’s the good news.
While women are significantly underrepresented in the First Department, which encompasses Manhattan and the Bronx, the rest of the state is much, much worse. Like, sort of astonishingly bad.
In the Third Department for example, which includes much of the state directly to the north of the city, women represent just 19 percent of lower-court judges on the bench. The other two departments aren’t much better; in the Fourth Department, comprising most of the western part of the state, only 26 percent of judges are women, and it’s 38 percent in the Second Department, which includes Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and parts of Long Island.
The lack of diversity goes beyond gender, too. There’s currently a grand total of one non-Caucasian serving on the bench in the Third Department’s lower courts. On the Supreme Court? Not one. In fact, the Third Department, the report notes, made up of 28 counties, “has never elected a minority to the Supreme Court bench since the court system was created 300 years ago.”
So what gives? The report notes that New York is among the most diverse states in the country, and in fact, the judiciary is more diverse here than in a lot of other places. Judge Jane Bolin, for example, was the first black woman ever to serve as a judge in America, and she was appointed right here in New York City in 1939. (Bolin was also the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School, where she went after attending Wellesey College, where she and the only other black student were obliged to live in an off campus apartment.)
The problem seems to be mostly an upstate one. Since just 35 percent of attorneys in New York state are women, the numbers in and around New York City, while still somewhat out of whack, match much more closely with the overall attorney population, from which judges are drawn. The news isn’t all bad though. In First Department, non-white judges are actually disproportionately represented on the bench as compared to the overall population.
Visit the Bar Association’s website to read the rest of the report, which includes background on some of the state’s judicial milestones, like Bolin’s appointment.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 6, 2014
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