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Survey Shows California Bench Continues Growing More Diverse

For the 15th straight year, California’s judicial bench has grown more diverse, according to new data released this week by the Judicial Council.

As of Dec. 31, 2020, female judicial officers constitute 37.6 percent of judicial officers across all court levels, a slight increase over the prior year and an increase of more than 10 percentage points since 2006; the first year that data were collected for this purpose.

The bench also has continued to become more racially and ethnically diverse. The proportion of white judicial officers has declined about five percentage points since 2006, while the percentage of Asian, Black, and Hispanic judicial officers has nearly doubled over the same time period.

“As the first Asian-Filipina American and the second woman to serve as the state’s chief justice, I’m pleased that California’s judiciary continues to grow more diverse,” said Chief Justice Tani-Cantil-Sakauye. “Thanks in large part to recent appointments from Governor Gavin Newsom and his predecessor Governor Jerry Brown, our courts are more reflective of the rich tapestry of people we serve.”


Survey of California Bench

The Judicial Council surveyed California judges and justices in December 2020 to get a snapshot of the demographics of the California bench – including gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Responding to the questionnaire is voluntary for judges, and the data only reflects the responses provided.

Among the findings:

Gender – Data show the percentage of female justices and judges has increased to 37.6 percent, compared to 27.1 percent in 2006, continuing a steady upward trend.

Race and Ethnicity – The data also show changes over the past 15 years in the percentage of justices and judges reported in the following race/ethnicity categories:

American Indian or Alaska Native (0.4 percent in 2020 compared to 0.1 percent in 2006);

Asian (8.1 percent in 2020 compared to 4.4 percent in 2006);

Black or African American (8.0 percent in 2020 compared to 4.4 percent in 2006);

Hispanic or Latino (11.2 percent in 2020 compared to 6.3 percent in 2006);

Pacific Islander (0.3 percent in 2020 compared to 0.1 percent in 2006);

White (64.8 percent in 2020 compared to 70.1 percent in 2006);

Some Other Race (1.0 percent in 2020 compared to 0.2 percent in 2006);

More Than One Race (4.2 percent in 2020 compared to 4.4 percent in 2006); and

Information Not Provided (1.9 percent in 2020 compared to 9.9 percent in 2006).

These changes reflect judicial retirements and other departures from the bench, new judicial appointments, and an increase in the number of trial court judges who voluntarily provided race/ethnicity information.


Gender Identity/Sexual Orientation

This is the 10th year that the study includes data on gender identity and sexual orientation, as required by a law passed in 2011. More than 70 percent of respondents provided information about gender identity/sexual orientation, reporting the following:

Heterosexual, 72.9 percent;

Lesbian, 1.6 percent;

Gay, 2.2 percent;

Bisexual, 0.2 percent;

Transgender, 0.1 percent; and

Information not provided, 23.1 percent.


Veteran and Disability Status

In addition, this is the seventh year that the study includes data on veteran and disability status. These questions were first asked of justices and judges who were new to the bench during the 2014 calendar year, although judges appointed before this date are free to update this aspect of their demographic profile as well. Of the 667 active trial court judges responding to the question about their status as a veteran, 46 respondents (7 percent) indicated they have served in the military. Of the 672 active judges responding to the question concerning their disability status, 17 judges (3 percent) indicated they have a disability.


About Judicial Officer Demographic Data

Government Code section 12011.5(n) requires the Judicial Council to collect and release aggregate demographic data on California state justices and judges by March 1 every year. This is the report’s 15th year.

Increasing the diversity of California’s judicial officers to reflect the rich diversity of California’s populace continues to be a key goal of the Judicial Council.