Race and Ethnicity
For more than a century and half, the Article III judiciary was composed exclusively of white judges. Irvin Mollison became the first nonwhite Article III judge in 1945 when he joined the U.S. Customs Court. He remained the only Article III judge of color until William Hastie joined the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 1950. The general trend of judicial appointments from that time has been one of periods of increasing diversity followed by plateaus, though there were some fluctuations in more granular details that reflected both the changing politics of race and the mutability of racial and ethnic categories.
The length of judicial tenure has meant that the composition of the bench has not kept pace with the increasing diversity of new judicial appointments in recent decades. The charts below reflect these trends. The first shows the number of Article III judicial commissions by race or ethnicity from the years 1940 to 2015. The second chart shows the proportion of judicial commissions each year by race or ethnicity. You can use the slide control to the right of the chart to move between years.
A number of factors may have influenced the rate of these changes over time. In some instances, the statistical changes outlined on this page directly reflect policies on the part of the political branches. Several modern presidents, for instance, have made an avowed commitment to appoint more nonwhite judges. By the same token, these changes likely also bear some relationship to the delayed effects of more searching and widespread transformations in American society, with successive generations availing themselves of enhanced opportunities to forge legal and then judicial careers that would have been foreclosed for much of American history. The next chart shows the racial composition of the bench as a whole over this time. The drop-down menu to the right of the chart allows readers to isolate one or more groups for ease of visual reference.