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Gender, Race Gap Between Ore. Judges, Population

White males are 37 percent of Oregon's population, but are half of all state judges. (M.O. Stevens/Wikimedia Commons)
White males are 37 percent of Oregon's population, but are half of all state judges. (M.O. Stevens/Wikimedia Commons)
July 5, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. - State court judges in Oregon are disproportionately male and white, according to a new study called The Gavel Gap, released by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. The study said both men and women of color are underrepresented in the judiciary, compared with the state's demographics.

Co-author of The Gavel Gap study and professor of law at Vanderbilt University Tracey George, said state courts decide more than 90 percent of America's judicial business, and it's important that the courts reflect the nation.

"Any group of people, when they decide cases, they're always going to be affected by their experiences," she said. "It affects how we see disputes. It affects how we understand facts. So we want judges to have the range of backgrounds and attributes that bear on the kinds of cases they hear."

According to the study, white men make up 37 percent of Oregon's population, but are half of all state judges. Although the state was given a grade of C by the authors, Oregon ranked third in the nation when it came to closing race and gender gaps on state court benches.

George said the biggest challenge she faced conducting this study was finding information about state judges. She said although courts in the U.S. are held in high regard around the world, the judges themselves often work behind a cloak of secrecy.

"If you look me up on the website at Vanderbilt University, you can learn everything about my background," she added. "Why should we expect that for professors teaching in a university but not for judges who decide our fate?"

Nationally, white men are nearly twice as represented on state judiciaries as in the population. Meanwhile, women of all races are 51 percent of the population but only 30 percent of state judges. People of color are 38 percent but make up just 20 percent of state judges.

The full study can be read online here.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR