Finally – US Senate Confirms First African-American Women on Georgia’s Federal Courts

LDF Applauds Senate Confirmation of First African-American Women on Georgia’s Federal Courts

On November 18, 2014, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., (LDF) welcomed the historic votes by the U.S. Senate to confirm the first African-American female judges ever to serve on Georgia’s federal judiciary. The Senate confirmation of Leslie Abrams to the middle District of Georgia and Eleanor Ross to the Northern District of Georgia had been awaited for some time.Judge Leslie Abrams

Judge Leslie Abrams

President Obama had previously nominated two African-American females to the Northern District of Georgia, but the Senate refused to act and the nominations were withdrawn. Georgia had issued a judicial emergency with numerous vacancies and a backlog of cases. FJudges nominated to the federal bench by the President of the United States can’t be sworn in until there is US Senate confirmation.

The Congressional Black Caucus tells us that black judicial nominees for federal spots today are very likely to face Senate opposition as compared to their white counterparts. The case of Florida US Senator Marco Rubio’s shameful turnaround on the nomination of William Thomas in Florida—Rubio first supported then opposed—is only one example. Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina also stalled the nomination of a black female candidate for a federal spot there.

Judge Eleanor Ross

Judge Eleanor Ross

Article III of the US Constitution established the Supreme Court and gave Congress the power to create federal district courts and courts of appeals. Judges who serve on these courts are called Article III Judges; they are nominated and appointed by the President and subject to confirmation by the Senate. Article III Judges enjoy two important constitutional protections. They are appointed for life “during good behaviour” and earn “a compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.” Article III’s guarantees of life-time positions and undiminishable salaries ensure that judges who serve on the federal courts of appeals or district courts are not subject to removal or reduced pay merely because they decide a case in a manner that some people may not like; it also ensures that Article III Judges make decisions based solely on the rule of law.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals represents Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. Its territory comprises the highest percentage of blacks—approximately 25 percent—of any federal judicial circuit in the country. Today, there are eight judges on “active” status there and eight more on “senior” status. Of these 16 jurists, only one is black—Judge Charles Wilson, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1999. Judge Wilson, in turn, replaced Judge Joseph Hatchett, the first black judge ever to serve in the 11th Circuit since its creation in 1981. There have been no black female judge on the 11th Circuit.

Why Arent There More Black Federal Judges in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia? 

In 1937, William Henry Hastie became the first black federal district court judge. In 1950, he was confirmed as the first black federal appellate judge. And he was a top contender for the Supreme Court when President  Kennedy was sworn in 1961.  Hastie was, without a doubt, among the most respected jurists of the 20th century.
Leslie Proll,Director of LDF’s Washington Office, stated: “This day is a  long time coming. Of 18 federal judgeships, Georgia had only one active African-American federal judge. Today’s confirmations advance judicial diversity in Georgia but more progress should be made. Significantly, the State gains its first African-American women on the federal bench. Since 1979, when President Jimmy Carter first integrated Georgia’s federal courts, all African-American judges have been male.”

Article I of the United States Constitution gave Congress the power to create magistrate judgeships, the bankruptcy court, and various legislative courts. Judges serving on these judicial bodies hold office for such terms as Congress prescribes. For example, bankruptcy judges are appointed for a fourteen-year term by the circuit court judges and hear matters that arise under the bankruptcy laws. Magistrate judges are appointed for eight years by the federal district judges. Magistrate judges assist district judges in preparing civil and criminal cases for trial and, when the parties agree, they also try civil cases.
In 1961, Judge James B. Parsons became the first African American appointed as an Article III district court judge. Judge Parsons presided in excess of thirty years before his retirement in 1992.