Amid growing recognition of disparities in America’s justice system, this report highlights a critical but under-scrutinized problem: the lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity on state supreme court benches across the United States. State supreme courts, which sit atop state judiciaries, do not typically garner the same attention as the U.S. Supreme Court, but they hold substantial power. As a whole, state courts hear 95 percent of all cases filed in the United States. State supreme courts generally provide the final word in interpreting state law and set precedents that bind more than 23,000 lower state court judges.
In recent years, state supreme courts have reversed multimillion-dollar verdicts in commercial disputes, struck down restrictive abortion laws, and ordered hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding for education — all as matters of state law.
Drawing on nearly 60 years of data, we looked at who has been empowered to don a robe and sit on these powerful courts. A few numbers begin to tell the story:
Twenty-four states currently have an all-white supreme court bench, including eight states in which people of color are at least a quarter of the state’s general population.
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