Padilla Delivers Remarks on Importance of Diversity in the Federal Judiciary

WATCH: Sen. Padilla celebrates diversity of federal judiciary appointees under President Biden

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, delivered remarks at a virtual event entitled “Judicial Diversity and Equal Justice: Building a Stronger Democracy.” The event was hosted by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

During his remarks, Padilla discussed the importance of ensuring that the federal judiciary reflects our country’s diversity of race, gender, as well as legal and professional experience.

Earlier this month, the Senate confirmed President Biden’s 175th nominee to the federal judiciary. Padilla highlighted that over 65 percent of the appointees are women, and 65 percent are people of color, with more Black women confirmed to lifetime judgeships than under any other administration.

Since entering the Senate, Padilla has supported the confirmations of a diverse group of judges, including Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman and first former public defender on the Supreme Court; Judge Sunshine Sykes, the first Native American federal judge in California; and Judge Lucy Koh, the first Korean American woman to serve on a federal circuit court. He also praised Judge Ana de Alba’s journey from growing up in a family of farm workers as the daughter of immigrants from Mexico to earning appointments to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Padilla is committed to rebuilding a federal judiciary that better reflects and understands the America it serves. Within weeks of being sworn into the Senate, Padilla established a Judicial Evaluation Commission that is approximately 70 percent attorneys of color and a majority women to evaluate candidates for federal judicial vacancies in California. Senator Padilla has worked closely with the Biden administration to recommend and support the nominations of highly-qualified, outstanding judges to the federal courts.

Video of Padilla’s remarks can be found here.

Padilla’s remarks, as delivered, are available below:

Thank you for the very kind and generous introduction. And a big thank you to Maya Wiley, Judge Edward Chen, and other academics and advocates that are participating today. But before I get started, just again, want to thank you for elevating this topic, important and it remains timely topic of judicial diversity. I address you not just as United States Senator, not just as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but a Senator proud to represent the state of California, not just the most populous state in the nation, but the most diverse state in the nation as well. It’s been a priority for me to elevate this conversation since my first days in the Senate, having seen the numbers from the prior administration, right? Lack of diversity or the shortcomings of lack of diversity is not a new issue in Washington, D.C. and in the federal judiciary.

Just look at the last administration where under the Trump Administration, 230 judges were appointed. Over 80 percent white, prosecutorial experience being vastly overrepresented. And so, it’s been a priority for me, for the Senate as a whole, and for the Biden Administration to do something about that. How do we diversify the bench and include voices that have not been included in the past in an effort to strengthen the federal judiciary? It’s not lost on me the timing of it. In 2020, it was the year that President Biden was elected. But it was also an election when we went from a Republican majority back to a Democratic majority. And so it provided a ripe opportunity. The stars aligned for this to become a priority for both the Administration and for the Senate.

And you’ve heard the numbers. I’m proud to say that we recently celebrated 175 federal judges being confirmed by the Senate. If I have the numbers correct, it’s about 65 percent women and about 65 percent people of color. And so now why is that important? You know, if you watch these nomination hearings in committee, you know that the one question I always ask, you can count on me asking, is this subject matter of diversity, both on the bench, also who’s in the courtroom. We know how valuable clerkship opportunities and experiences are. But today, we’re speaking just about the federal bench. It’s because when you bring in diverse judges, you bring in more life experience, life perspective, heaven forbid ideas into the deliberations of the judiciary, which leads to more thoughtful decisions and rulings as a result. But there’s another very important and valuable result. And that is strengthening public confidence in the judiciary. For people who come through the system, whether they see themselves represented in the deliberations in the system or not goes a long way in them sort of understanding and accepting the outcomes of their experience, whether it’s on the plaintiff side or the defendant side. If you have a stake in the game, if you feel your perspectives have been heard, then there’s more of a public confidence in the judiciary. So the need for more representation has been significant — we’ve made significant improvements on that these last couple of years.

Now, I will tell you, as proud as we are of the most recent appointment and confirmation to the Supreme Court, I’ll come back and speak to Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson in a second. Let me tell you how it is really at all levels. When we talk about the numbers and what it’s meant not just, you know, broadly, and I’ve mentioned I’m proud to represent in California, you know, so we equally appreciate and celebrate the appointment of Sunshine Sykes, for example, to the District Court, the first Native American judge in a California federal court. So it seems like every month there’s another first, another month we’re breaking ground, another month that we’re making significant progress in bringing these diverse perspectives to the federal judiciary.

Of course, I was honored to be part of the process in the multi-day confirmation hearing, for now Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first, not just the first African American woman, the first former defender to be appointed and confirmed to the United States Supreme Court.

But I also wanted add another example, not a District Court Judge, not a Supreme Court Justice, but a Circuit Court Judge. You know, in my time in the Senate over the last three plus years, there’s one individual that I’ve had a chance to introduce to the Judiciary Committee not just once, but twice, Judge Ana de Alba, who I first nominated to a District Court position in the Eastern District of California, one of the districts that is at the highest level of workload and caseloads and in need of additional justices to serve the district that it represents. Judge de Alba came with some incredible, incredible qualifications. She graduated from UC Berkeley. She received her law degree from UC Berkeley as well. Started her career in private practice, but always with a significant amount of pro bono experience in the very community where she grew up in California’s Central Valley, one of the most challenging regions in the country. And what she brings, her academic and professional and legal credentials to the table. I mention her because not only did we confirm her as a District Court Judge, not but a year later, when an opening was created on the Circuit Court, the Ninth Circuit, I nominated her again, and she was confirmed, elevated to serve on the Ninth Circuit. In addition to her professional and academic credentials, I point her case out because Ana de Alba, as I introduced to my colleagues, is a daughter and granddaughter of farm workers. She’s a proud daughter of immigrants. She witnessed her mother and her grandmother have to suffer from terrible injustices in the fields. And she was able to overcome a lot of those barriers from when she was growing up to succeed academically, go to college, graduate from college, go to law school, graduate from law school, establish a successful career, and now serves on the Ninth Circuit. And you better believe that that perspective that she brings to the Circuit Court is immensely valuable to the proceedings, but also a beacon of hope and inspiration to the people of the Ninth Circuit, no longer just the Eastern District, but throughout the Ninth Circuit.

So, again, working with my colleagues in the Judiciary Committee, throughout the Senate, and with the White House, this has become a righteous priority. We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, but we’re not slowing up. We’re not stopping now. We know that we have a lot more in the process either soon to be nominated, soon to be before the Judiciary Committee for their confirmation hearing, or soon to be scheduled for confirmation votes on the Senate floor. And we’re going to continue to prioritize this for all the reasons that you’ve heard me articulate here in these last few minutes and all the reasons that you’ll hear from the other presenters and speakers here today. So thank you all so very much for tuning in, and thank you for the opportunity.