Why Diversity Matters on the Supreme Court
President Joe Biden’s announcement that he would nominate Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court represents an historic selection, although not necessarily a particularly surprising choice. That’s because Biden made clear well in advance his decision to select a Black female judge to the nation’s highest court when the opportunity presented itself. That announcement created a relatively short list of potential nominees, among whom Brown Jackson was a well-qualified option.
Amid Criticism the Selection Process Moves Forward
This pre-determined race and gender criteria was not universally popular. Some critics, while supportive of the decision to nominate a Black woman, criticized the fact that President Biden announced that criteria ahead of selecting a nominee. These critics argue that creating a rigid category of race and gender for the role represents a level of race- and gender-based preference that would actually be illegal in many traditional employment contexts.
Other critics go even further and argue that race and gender shouldn’t be relevant to the nomination of a Supreme Court justice at all, whether or not these criteria were explicitly stated in advance.
Much of this debate is partisan; however, it should be noted that President Ronald Reagan took a very similar approach over 40 years ago when nominating Sandra Day O’Connor to be the first female Supreme Court justice.
Why Supreme Court Diversity Matters
Some may ask, “What’s so important about diversity on the Supreme Court anyway? Isn’t the law the law, and shouldn’t any justice interpret the law the same way? And isn’t it inappropriate to give some candidates preferential treatment over others based on their race or gender?”
Let’s consider some of these questions one by one.
First, why is diversity important on the Supreme Court? There are a couple of valid answers to this question. First, diverse groups do think differently, generally better, and more creatively. In a piece for the Washington Post, Amber Phillips recently put together a great overview of how Supreme Court diversity has shaped American life through key decisions over the years. Diverse perspectives help the Court, as a whole, better understand the incredibly diverse population the Court has jurisdiction over.
Second, it’s not the case that personal backgrounds, including race and gender, are irrelevant to how a justice sees the law. Phillips’s infographic does a nice job of illustrating this as well.
The question on the appropriateness of selecting justices based on immutable factors like race or gender also ties back to the benefits of diversity and inclusion. If we accept that race and gender shape how people see the world – including the application of legal principals to that world – and we accept that different demographics experience the touch of the law differently, diversity on the high court is essential in striving toward an equal application of justice.
In addition, it’s important to recognize that diversity at the highest levels of any organization – whether politics, law, business, sports, etc. – creates role models and examples for younger generations to follow.
The brilliant young minds of some Black girls and young women may be sufficiently inspired by seeing someone who looks like them on the nation’s highest court that they see a seat on the Supreme Court as within their own reach and thereby benefit society, as a whole, by increasing the pool of qualified applicants for future openings.
Finally, we can’t help but point to our own emphasis on Key Employee Demographics Required for Growth™ when selecting staff members (or, in this case, Supreme Court justices). Whether a company or a court, ensuring that your employees or members reflect the diversity of those you serve matters.
Are you tired of workplace diversity training that does not link to business? Are you tired of tactics that don’t drive business results? InclusionINC has inclusion and strategic consulting that link inclusion to employee engagement, productivity, innovation and retention, moving inclusion beyond tactics to a critical business strategy.