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Brennan Center Finds Maryland Ranks Highly in State High Court Diversity

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Brennan Center Finds Maryland Ranks Highly in State High Court Diversity

Jun 23, 2022 | 6:50 am ET
By Nene Narh-Mensah
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Brennan Center Finds Maryland Ranks Highly in State High Court Diversity
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The Maryland Court of Appeals building. Photo by Bennett Leckrone.

Maryland has a higher number of judges from diverse backgrounds than most other states, according to a new report. 

The Brennan Center for Justice released an update about state Supreme Court diversity late last month that shows many states are lacking in racial, gender and experiential diversity among their top judges.

Maryland outpaced most other states when it comes to judicial diversity. People of color make up 43% of Maryland’s Court of Appeals, which is the state’s highest court, while 57% of the judges are women, and 43% of the judges are women of color, according to the report.

Maryland is one of eight states that has a judge who was a civil legal services attorney, and one of 20 states that has at least one former public defender serving on its highest court.

Among milestones included in the report was Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) appointing Judge Angela Eaves to the Court of Appeals.

Eaves is the state’s first Hispanic judge and the only one on the court with exper­i­ence as a civil legal services attor­ney, according to the report. She’s one of the seven women of color appointed to a state Supreme Court since the Brennan Center’s last update on court diversity in April of 2021.

The report also mentioned Hogan’s decision to re-advertise the vacancy Eaves would eventually fill when only white candidates applied.

The deadline was extended to “attract as broad a field of candidates as possible consistent with his commitment to diversity and outreach,” according to an October statement by the governor’s office.

“It is a top priority to ensure the composition of our courts reflect the great diversity of our state,” Hogan said in February of the seven nominations he’d made to the Court of Appeals. “These historic appointments deliver on that commitment.”

Hogan also appointed the first Asian American judge in Maryland’s appellate courts, Rosalyn Tang. E. Gregory Wells was recently named the first African-American to serve as the chief judge of the Court of Special Appeals, and the first openly LGBTQ chief judge for either of Maryland’s appellate courts. 

“The governor’s first priority is ensuring that we have the most qualified judges possible,” general legal counsel of the governor’s office Mike Pedone said. “However, we also make an effort to ensure that our courts reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the communities they serve.”

Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery) attributed Maryland’s appellate court diversity to the state’s diverse population, and noted that judicial diversity has been a priority for both parties in the Maryland Senate, where judicial appointees are confirmed. 

The importance of these metrics has an impact on the public’s view of the court, said Waldstreicher, who is the vice chair of the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee.

“The fairness of our system depends on trust in our system. And that trust is built by having a bench that reflects what Maryland looks like,” Waldstreicher said.

Del. Wanika Fisher (D-Prince George’s) said that a more diverse court system means better representation for residents on important criminal justice and civil rights issues.

She also said Maryland’s population — after the 2020 Census, less than half of all Marylanders are white — leads to a wider range of people entering the legal field.

“I think people have been more active, wanting to be jurists and wanting to be on the other side of the bench,” Fisher said.

Waldstreicher echoed that point.

“We need to continue creating a pipeline of diverse lawyers and diverse judges in lower courts in order to ensure that our Court of Appeals remains diverse,” Waldstreicher said.

Fisher, an attorney and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, similarly celebrated Maryland’s high court diversity but emphasized the need for further improvements.

“We should be proud of that but shouldn’t rest on it,” Fisher said.

The delegate said certain improvements, such as diversifying all sectors of the justice system, including lower courts and the jury selection process could make the justice system as a whole more representative.

Fisher cited her own legislation, House Bill 74, which sought to allow certain former felons who served their time to be on juries. A version of the bill passed the Maryland Senate this year, but failed to move forward in the House of Delegates.