U.S. Supreme Court lacks representation for people of color

by Brenna Martinez , Staff Writer

Following the announced retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer, President Biden announced that he will be selecting a Black woman to replace the empty seat of the Supreme Court. 

Of the 155 justices that have served in the Supreme Court, a meager two have been African American — both of these justices were also men. This push for a Black woman to finally be nominated into the Supreme Court highlights the stark inequities that exist in the American legal system.

While it is clear there are great gaps in the representation of women and Black individuals in the Supreme Court, the fact that many ethnic groups have not had even a moment of representation in the nation’s highest court can sometimes be overlooked. 

There has never been representation for Asian, Pacific Islander or Native American communities in the Supreme Court, a disheartening reality considering the diversity of the United States population and the amount of qualified professionals that are in practice.

The issue of unequal representation does not only exist in the nation’s highest court but persists throughout the legal system nationwide. A 2019 report from Center for American Progress reported that 80% of federal judges are white, and 73% of federal judges are men. Other populations, such as the LGBTQ+ community only composing around 1% of judges, are also severely underrepresented in the legal system.

What can be done to ensure that the people who are shaping the laws and legal decisions of our country are reflective of the diverse population that they serve? 

It starts with ensuring that institutions of higher education are accessible to all. People of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people of low-income and disabled individuals should all be able to access the education that can propel them into a legal career. 

The reality of higher education is it still remains inaccessible to many groups of people. High costs deter capable individuals away from furthering their education. People have families they need to provide for or even just for themselves, and the high costs associated with pursuing a higher education can make it nearly impossible for lower-income people to go to school. Additionally, the high costs of attendance can deter people with certain disabilities from attending, as certain conditions requiring costly medication or treatments can put a strain on the flexibility of an individual’s finances.

Even when students of different backgrounds are able to make it to these higher institutions despite the financial aspect, they are subject to face discrimination and inequity that is built into the system of academia itself. 

The inaccessibility of higher education has closed doors for marginalized individuals, thus closing doors for opportunities to hold prestigious positions. 

Education needs to be reformed to be more accessible to larger groups of people, which would in turn allow a more diverse pool of educated people to fill positions of prestige. Student debt forgiveness, a higher minimum wage and part-time schooling pathways would allow more people to pursue their higher education. 

For now, it’s great that President Biden is using his white privilege to uplift a woman of color so she is able to fulfill a role she is more than qualified for. However, this privilege should more so be used to change the system into one that is accepting of all individuals. Marginalized communities should not have to rely on the privilege of white individuals in order for them to be heard. 

The system must change so that all voices are heard, valued and accepted on their own.

Brenna Martinez is a junior studying linguistics and English.