You are here

Diversity on the Bench

The Federal Judicial Center provides demographic information about federal judges for those interested in the composition of the federal judiciary. The data is available in different formats and can be viewed on an individual or aggregate basis.

The Office of Legal Policy (OLP) at the Department of Justice—which coordinates the judicial nomination process with the White House and the Senate—compiles demographic information on judicial nominees. Currently, nominees self-report their gender on a standard U.S. Office of Personnel Management form and their race or ethnicity on an internal OLP form, and OLP provides both pieces of data to the FJC. While its collection processes have changed over time, OLP has provided the FJC with demographic information since before the FJC’s Biographical Directory of Article III Federal Judges, 1789-present, was first published online in 2000. In compiling data for earlier judges, the FJC relied on the best available historical sources. (Click here for more information about the compilation of the directory.)

Users of the data should keep in mind its limits. The lack of objective criteria defining racial or ethnic groups as well as changing perceptions of preferred terminology and category boundaries make the data inherently subjective. The racial or ethnic categories associated with recent judges represent the way those judges chose to identify themselves upon nomination to the bench. Judges with similar ancestry may identify more closely with different elements of that ancestry or may use varying terminology to describe their identities. Demographic information for earlier judges, depending on the source, may indicate only the public perception of a judge’s identity. (There is, for example, a broad consensus that the Article III federal judiciary was composed entirely of white men until 1928 and that all Article III judges prior to 1945 were white.) These sorts of limitations mean that the demographic data cannot provide a precise metric for categorizing federal judges. The data remains useful, however, for learning more about individual judges as well as for investigating broad trends in the demographic composition of the federal judiciary.   

Demographic data is available in aggregate form via the Demography of Article III Judges, 1789-2020 exhibit, which consists of interactive charts and graphs demonstrating how the demography of the federal bench has changed over time. The material on gender includes New Article III Judges by Gender, 1920-2020, Gender of New Article III Judges by Year, 1920-2020, and Gender of Article III Judges, 1789-2020. The race and ethnicity material consists of New Article III Judges by Race or Ethnicity, 1940-2020, Race or Ethnicity of New Article III Judges by Year, 1940-2020, and Article III Federal Judges by Race or Ethnicity, 1789-2020.

Demographic information on individual judges is available through the advanced search feature of the Biographical Directory of Article III Federal Judges, 1789-present. Researchers may navigate to the Personal Characteristics and Background section of the advanced search tool and limit their search to male or female judges and/or select one or more race or ethnicity categories. These search criteria may be combined with any others, such as court type or appointing president.

As can be seen in the list of terms below, some judges have identified themselves using more than one race or ethnicity term. Judges with multiracial or multiethnic identities will appear only in search results for their specific identity. For example, a judge identifying as “African American/Hispanic” will not appear in the search results if only “African American” or “Hispanic” is selected from the list, nor if both are selected simultaneously. Instead, the specific category “African American/Hispanic” must be selected.

Demographic information also appears in the export of the Biographical Directory, which is available in multiple formats. Researchers may download a flat file (with all data pertaining to a judge in one row) as an Excel workbook or CSV file; an Excel workbook with each category of data (e.g., Demographics, Federal Judicial Service, Education) on a separate tab; or separate CSV files for each category of data, including Demographics. 

Race and Ethnicity Terms Currently in Use:

African American
African American/American Indian
African American/Asian American
African American/Asian American/Hispanic
African American/Hispanic
African American/White
American Indian
Asian American
Asian American/Hispanic
Asian American/Hispanic/White
Asian American/Korean American
Asian American/Pacific Islander
Asian American/South Asian American
Asian American/White
Cuban American/White
Pacific Islander
Pacific Islander/White