Report names Nevada among 20 states without a person of color on the Supreme Court

Report names Nevada among 20 states without a person of color on the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of Nevada's main courthouse in Carson City, Nevada. Photographed on July 4, 2020 by Wikipedia user Coolcaesar.

by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current

CARSON CITY — Though Nevada’s population is surging with people of color, that is not reflected in the state’s highest court, according to a new analysis. 

The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law found the state is one of 20 with zero justices of color on its Supreme Court.

The State Supreme Court Diversity report, which collected data from February 2020 to April 2021, released updated data May 18.

In addition to 20 states lacking justices that identify as people of color, the analysis showed that 12 of those states, including Nevada, had populations where at least 20% of the population identified as people of color.

Nevada’s population is 49% people of color.

Further breaking down demographics, there were 28 states without Black Supreme Court justices, 39 states without Hispanic justices, 43 states without Asian American justices, and 47 states without Indigenous justices.

The report noted 59% of state supreme court seats are held by men, and in nine states there is only one woman on the bench.

In Nevada, four out of seven justices are women.

Aside from racial breakdowns, the recent analysis also looked at legal backgrounds of Supreme Court jurists and found 39% of sitting justices were former prosecutors while 7% are former public defenders.

“The most common profes­sional exper­i­ences for state supreme court justices were in private prac­tice (81 percent), another judge­ship (69 percent), and prosec­u­tion (39 percent),” according to the report.

In Nevada, Justices Abbi Silver and Douglas Herndon were previously prosecutors with the Clark County District Attorney’s office. Justice Lidia Stiglich previously served as a public defender.

In the 2020 election, there was a concerted, and successful, push to elect public defenders to local and municipal courts in an effort to “balance the bench” – organizers have noted judicial seats are more commonly filled by prosecutors and those with a background in civil litigation.

The Brennan analysis noted that on a federal level, “Pres­id­ent Joe Biden has prior­it­ized increas­ing profes­sional diversity, recog­niz­ing that lawyers with corpor­ate and prosec­utor back­grounds have long been overrep­res­en­ted on the bench, while former public defend­ers, civil rights lawyers, civil legal aid attor­neys, and others who have served poor and margin­al­ized clients have been under­rep­res­en­ted.”

Biden nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson earlier this year to the Supreme Court of the United States. She was confirmed 53-47 and will be the first Black woman to become a justice for the nation’s highest court.

This story has been corrected to reflect the legal background of the Nevada Supreme Court justices. 

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