March 20, 2018

Trump’s appointed judges are a less diverse group than Obama’s

Don R. Willett, right, and James C. Ho, nominated by President Donald Trump as judges for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, are sworn into their Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington on Nov. 15, 2017. Both went on to be confirmed. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Don R. Willett, right, and James C. Ho, nominated by President Donald Trump as judges for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, are sworn into their Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington on Nov. 15, 2017. Both went on to be confirmed. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Just 10% of the judges President Donald Trump has appointed to the federal bench since taking office are racial or ethnic minorities – a decline from the administration of Barack Obama, whose judicial appointees were a record 36% nonwhite, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Federal Judicial Center.

Trump has appointed 29 judges as of March 20, including 26 who are white and three who are Asian. He has yet to appoint a black or Hispanic judge, though he has put forward at least one black and one Hispanic nominee.

By comparison, 116 of the 324 judges Obama appointed during his eight years in office were racial or ethnic minorities, including 58 blacks, 31 Hispanics, 18 Asians and nine with other or mixed racial or ethnic backgrounds. Obama’s total reflects both the highest number and share of nonwhite judges of any president to date.

Trump’s numbers will change as the Senate moves to confirm more of his nominees and as he identifies new nominees for vacant positions. But after 14 months in office, Trump’s record on racial and ethnic diversity in the courts is comparable to that of George H.W. Bush, who also put forward a slate of judges that was 10% nonwhite (19 nonwhite judges out of 188 total). About a quarter of Bill Clinton’s 372 appointed judges (24%) were nonwhite, as were 18% of George W. Bush’s 324 judges.

Trump also trails Obama in the share of female judges he has appointed. Six of Trump’s confirmed judges, or 21%, are women, compared with 42% under Obama. Trump’s share of female judges is on par with the proportions appointed by George W. and George H.W. Bush (22% and 19%, respectively). Clinton’s share was slightly higher (28%).

Despite an uptick in racial, ethnic and gender diversity in recent decades, the federal courts remain overwhelmingly white and male. Of the 1,304 currently sitting judges, just 20% are racial or ethnic minorities while 27% are women, according to the Federal Judicial Center. White men account for 60% of all sitting federal judges; nonwhite women account for just 7%.

Calvin Coolidge became the first president to appoint a woman to the federal bench when he named Genevieve Rose Cline to the U.S. Customs Court (later known as the Court of International Trade) in 1928. Harry Truman was the first president to name a black judge when he appointed Irvin Charles Mollison, also to the U.S. Customs Court, in 1945. Truman also appointed the nation’s first black appeals court judge, William Henry Hastie, who had earlier served on the U.S. District Court of the Virgin Islands.

Topics: Barack Obama, U.S. Political Figures, Donald Trump, Race and Ethnicity

  1. Photo of John Gramlich

    is a writer/editor at Pew Research Center.