A measure to release the names of individuals who assist the Governor in choosing court judges cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday and is expected to be considered by the full Senate as early as next month.
AB 2095 seeks transparency in the judicial applicant process to ensure fairness and equitable decision-making when vetting California court judges. Currently, the Governor shares applications of potential judges with a variety of citizens, often district attorneys, prosecutors and law enforcement officials, whose identities are unknown to the general public. Once those individuals determine the applicant’s qualifications, the Governor submits the applications to the State Bar for further evaluation.
“Given our challenge from the U.S. Supreme Court regarding egregious disparity in California’s sentencing laws, it is imperative to consider diverse backgrounds when determining who should judge accused citizens,” said Assemblyman Mike Davis (D-Los Angeles), author of SB 2095. “This bill increases fairness in deciding who is qualified for judgeship.”
In addition, the bill requires members of the State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE) to complete mandatory training in the areas of fairness and bias in the judicial appointments process.
Assemblyman Davis said, “California is a majority-minority state, yet the current majority of California’s judges are Caucasian, while the prison population consists of an inordinate amount of ethnic minorities.”
The California State Conference of the NAACP, sponsoring the bill, is most concerned with the lack of diversity on the bench. They point out that of the 105 seats on the California Court of Appeals only four are African American and four are Latino American.
“You can tell a lot about a process from the people who are behind it,” said California NAACP President Alice Huffman.
Also in attendance at the hearing as a key witness in support was USC Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law Jody Armour who stated that, “at the heart of the judicial selection process is the opportunity for California to provide leadership by implementing a fair and transparent process. We can achieve this objective by the Governor placing the select committee’s names on his website.”
The Governor will have a chance to appoint 150 new judges over the next couple of years, as well as replace retiring judges.