Court Watch

95% of Wisconsin State Judges Are White

State trails 43 states in judicial diversity, study shows, while near the top in black incarceration.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Aug 1st, 2016 04:08 pm
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The Gavel Gap

The Gavel Gap

Wisconsin’s state-level judiciary is the sixth whitest in the country, according to a new study. And among states with at least 100 judges, Wisconsin is dead last in racial diversity among state judges.

Not so coincidentally, according to another new study, Wisconsin’s black incarceration rates are more than 11 times that for whites, the second-highest disparity rate in the nation.

The report on judges, “The Gavel Gap: Who Sits in Judgment on State Courts?” reports that only 5% of the 264 Wisconsin judges considered are non-white. Nationally, 20% of judges are people of color, four times the Wisconsin rate.

Wisconsin’s judicial diversity lags behind other Midwestern states including Minnesota (299 judges, 15% judges of color), Michigan (257 judges, 15% judges of color), Ohio (416, 9%), Illinois (436, 27%), Indiana (129, 12%), and Iowa (127, 6%).

And worse, less than one percent of Wisconsin judges are non-white women, according to the report. That is better than only the seven states – Alaska, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia – that have no women judges of color.

Women as a whole are underrepresented in the Wisconsin state judiciary, according to the report. Some 50% of the state’s population is women, but just 20% of judges are.

Nationally, women of color make up 8% of state-level judges and women account for 30% of state judges.

Men of color account for 4% of Wisconsin judges and 12% nationally.

Gov. Scott Walker‘s three finalists for the State Supreme Court seat held by David Prosser, who is retiring – were are white males. On Friday July 22, Walker appointed attorney Daniel Kelly to the bench.

If Wisconsin refuses to elect or appoint minority judges to the bench, it has no problems sending minorities to prison, according to “The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons.” Nationally, African-Americans are sent to state prisons at a rate 5.1 times that whites are. In Wisconsin, blacks are imprisoned at 11.5 times the rate that whites are.

Hispanics are incarcerated in Wisconsin at 2.6 times the rate whites are, the fourth highest discrepancy level in the country. Nationally, on averages, Hispanics are locked up in state prisons at a rate 1.4 times that whites are incarcerated.

The authors of the judicial study, Tracey E. George, a law and political science at professor at Vanderbilt University, and Albert H. Yoon, a law and economics professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, said their findings “demonstrate that we need a better process for developing a pipeline of women and minorities to serve as judges. Our courts must be representative in order to fulfill their purposes. Our laws are premised in part on the idea that our courts will be staffed by judges who can understand the circumstances of the communities which they serve.”

And Ashley Nellis, a senior research at The Sentencing Project and author of the racial disparity report, recommended, among other things, “adequate and regular training on the role of implicit, unchecked bias by key decision makers in the criminal justice system.”

“While open expression of negative views about people of color, as well as overt discrimination, has declined significantly in many areas of American society (largely attributable to successful civil rights laws and campaigns), some convincingly argue that this overt discrimination, especially against African Americans, has transformed into implicit bias, but with similar disparate results,” she wrote.”

Implicit bias trainings can make people aware of these temptations, and this awareness can minimize racially influenced trigger responses in the future,” she said.

Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “​To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and ​encouraging civic engagement in and debate ​about the judicial system and its operation.”

12 thoughts on “Court Watch: 95% of Wisconsin State Judges Are White”

  1. Jason says:

    What qualifies as white in this age? If your parents are South African or Israeli born are you classified as white? Does this include white-Hispanics? How many are disabled? FDR was disabled and showed great empathy for others, according to most liberals. How many are atheist? It is important to not be poisoned from that Old testament book. Did they go to an Ivy league school or Madison?

  2. Vincent Hanna says:

    Jason what’s your point? You doubt the statistics? You think someone has an agenda as opposed to genuine concern about Wisconsin’s judiciary lacking diversity? You just want to be contrarian because it makes you feel clever? Just sticking up for the beleaguered white male?

  3. D says:

    Yeah, because white people go to law school and many of them are successful. And uh, the fact that Wisconsin is like 90% white and most communities are majority white.

    How many are Jews, by the way? Why don’t we ever look at that statistic in this country when it comes to leadership positions? Nope, just white people as a giant homogenous group.

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    Why are other states doing so much better then, even states as white as Wisconsin? Why are some so eager to defend the status quo in 2016?

  5. D says:

    I don’t know. It’s impossible to know why unless you want to look at every single judicial race or appointment and point out if there was a more qualified candidate that was passed over. I suspect that isn’t the case and this boils down to the fact that white people are more likely to go to law school, become lawyers, and run for office. And the fact that white people are still the overwhelming majority.

    What is this people of color crap anyway? How many of those are Asians? Are Asians really in the same category as other groups as far as education goes?

  6. Vincent Hanna says:

    People of color crap? Yeesh. That’s an unfortunate choice of words. They don’t exactly make you seem like an enlightened or thoughtful individual.

  7. Sam says:

    Wisconsin is 86.7% White according to the 2010 census. More diversity on the bench may well be a good thing, especially in Milwaukee considering that is where the majority of our statewide diversity is located.

    I’m not a statistician, but the relative proximity of diversity in the general population and that of judges dampens the power of this article.

    Biases no doubt exist in the appointment and election of judges, whether that be by political affiliation, gender, race, etc. Perhaps we should have blind appointments and elections where only the candidates record and opinions are at issue?

    Hell I’d advocate that we shouldn’t be electing judges period and leave it up to the Wisconsin or county bars, but that has its own issues of transparency.

  8. AG says:

    I wonder if this is a permanent thing or if things will trend differently. How long has the average judge been practicing? Do we have a lot of “old guard” judges? The current classes of law students at Wisconsin and Marquette hover just above and below 20% minority student body (of all types). That’s low by itself… and how long would it take them to become state level judges? Maybe there’s a tide coming and we don’t see it?

    Maybe not though… and we need to make a concerted effort to change.

  9. Vincent Hanna says:

    Well-said AG. People shouldn’t feel threatened by or be reflexively opposed to calls for more diversity in law schools and the judiciary.

  10. D says:

    Yes, people of color crap. It’s a stupid, racist phrase used by the left when condemning white people.

    Things don’t always go according to demographics. We generally pick the best man or woman for the job. That’s not racist unless you can prove someone was passed over inexplicably.

  11. Vincent Hanna says:

    Mentioning people of color is racist against white people??!! HA! Who actually believes stuff like that? Where do you even get that stuff? Sean Hannity? Mark Levin? Where on the fringes of extremist talk radio are they spewing that nonsense?

  12. Micah says:

    The male to female ratio of the prison population does not reflect the broader makeup of society! More women need to go to jail! No more sexism in the process or in any courtroom!

    I do hope you came to the realization that main causal factors are purposely being ignored in both the above statement and article.

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