As other states diversify, Indiana Supreme Court stays all-white, mostly male

Indiana is one of 20 states that has no Black, Latino, Asian American or Native American justices sitting on its Supreme Court, even though people of color make up 23% of the state’s population, according to a new report issued by the Brennan Center for Justice.

Moreover, the Hoosier State is one of just eight states where women comprise 20% or less of the Supreme Court.

The data comes from the 2022 update in the Brennan Center’s “State Supreme Court Diversity” report. First released in 2019, the report has since been revised annually.

Indiana has sustained its all-white Supreme Court even as the number of similarly situated courts has declined from 24 in 2019 to 23 in 2020 and 22 in 2021.

Although Indiana will welcome a new justice this year with the retirement of Justice Steven David, the racial composition of the bench will not change. All three nominees recommended to Gov. Eric Holcomb to fill David’s seat are white.

The report highlighted that 25 new justices have been appointed since April 2021 to state supreme courts across the country. Of those, 15 are women and 10 are people are color. Maine and Vermont made history by swearing in their first state supreme court justices of color.

Yet the report noted progress in increasing judicial diversity has been slow. Of those new state supreme court justices, 15 are white. In Alaska and Tennessee, the already all-white bench welcomed new white justices.

Across the country, the proportion of justices of color ticked up to 18% in 2022 from 17% in April 2021. Also, the percentage of women justices rose to 41% from 39%.

The only racial minorities to have ever sat on the Indiana Supreme Court are African Americans.

Myra Selby broke both the color and gender barriers in 1995 when she became the first woman and first African American appointed to the state’s highest bench. Robert Rucker, who was tapped to fill Selby’s seat when she stepped down in 1999, was the first Black man to sit on the Indiana Supreme Court. However, with Rucker’s retirement in 2017, the court has returned to being all-white.

Women have not fared much better. Current Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush became just the second woman to join the state’s Supreme Court when she was appointed in 2012, which was 17 years after Selby’s appointment. Rush became the first woman chief justice in 2014.

Since Selby joined the bench, the Indiana Supreme Court has had seven vacancies. Of the 21 individuals recommended to the governor by the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission, Rucker has been the only person of color and just seven have been women.

“… (T)oday’s lack of judicial diversity is driven by many factors, including a long history of racial and gender discrimination in the United States and inequities in access to law schools and the legal bar,” the Brennan report stated. “Research has demonstrated that a diverse judiciary is important for increasing public trust and confidence in the courts, particularly among historically underrepresented communities.”

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