In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, I want to talk about the importance of judicial diversity – in particular, the lack of Latino representation on the bench. I will start with a quote from my great friend Justice Rolando Acosta, the presiding justice of the First Department. The quote is from a “Perspective” column that was published in the New York Law Journal over a decade ago. This is what he said: “The most important goal of [judicial] diversity is [that it would] give credibility to a judicial system that Latinos and people of color have historically viewed with suspicion and distrust. A diverse judiciary [would] engender confidence that courts—the last bastion of justice—have the requisite moral authority to dispense justice to all.” The idea is that our judiciary would be at its best, our judiciary would be viewed as most credible when the community – the users of our courts – begin to see themselves reflected in the judiciary.
Beyond engendering public confidence in the judiciary, however, judicial diversity would also improve the quality of judicial decision making because, according to Sherilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, judicial diversity would inject “traditionally excluded perspectives and values into the judicial decision-making [process, and] . . . [c]ourts achieve structural impartiality when judicial decision-making includes a cross-section of perspectives and values from the community.” Federal Judge Denny Chin—now on the Second Circuit—said something similar in 2007 in another “perspective” column in the New York Law Journal. He said: “A broader mix of judges, a bench that more fairly reflects the rich diversity of our society, will improve the overall quality of justice.”