President BidenJoe Biden28 Senate Democrats sign statement urging Israel-Hamas ceasefire Franklin Graham says Trump comeback would ‘be a very tough thing to do’ Schools face new pressures to reopen for in-person learning MORE announced his third slate of judicial nominees last Wednesday, a group of candidates that was hailed for its diversity. Among his nominees are the second Black woman ever to serve on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the first Native American federal judge in Washington State — and Gustavo A. Gelpí Jr., the second Hispanic judge to serve on the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Gelpí was praised by Latino lawmakers as “a strong defender of civil rights and of the people of Puerto Rico.”
While these candidates are all qualified, Biden’s latest slate of nominees is nonetheless disappointing. For too long, Latinos have been denied fair representation on the federal judiciary, and the administration is not moving fast enough towards addressing this inequity. Latinos are the country’s largest racial and ethnic minority group, and Latino jurists deserve more seats on the federal bench.
Latinos have long been under-represented in the federal judiciary. According to May 2020 research from the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, Latinos account for 6 percent of judges on Courts of Appeals, and 7 percent of judges on District Courts. In contrast, Latinos have been the nation’s largest minority group since 2003, currently comprising about 18 percent of the U.S. population. This disparity is especially glaring given that Latinos are disproportionately represented among those interacting with the federal criminal justice system.
Biden campaigned on a promise to nominate judges “who look like America” — but actions speak louder than words. Of the 11 candidates in his first slate of judicial nominees in March, only one was Latino. In April, there was one Latino in Biden’s second slate of three candidates. Gustavo Gelpí is the sole Latino in the current slate of six candidates. So out of the 20 nominees the Biden administration has put forward thus far, there have only been three Latinos. These numbers are inadequate to remedy the lack of Latinos on the federal judiciary. Consider that several Circuit Courts of Appeals have no active Latino judges, according to the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has never had a Latino judge in its entire history.
It’s no surprise that prominent Latino advocacy and legal groups have urged the Biden administration to do better on Latino judicial nominees. These organizations, like the Hispanic National Bar Association, MALDEF, and LatinoJustice PRLDEF understand what is at stake for our communities. Federal judges serve lifetime appointments, and there are only 81 federal vacancies left. It is time for the administration to boldly demonstrate its commitment to Latinos in the justice system. Some of the most important issues that federal courts will face in the future — from immigration to police reform to voting rights — will have a significant impact on Latinos for years to come.
Of course, Biden clearly values diversity. He selected a Latina law professor to co-chair a commission on Supreme Court reform, and he has shown himself to be a friend to the Latino community. However, true friends do not take each other for granted. Latino voters were decisive in the 2020 election that put Biden in the White House, and now our communities need his support. Putting forward more Latinos for the judiciary will not only benefit Latinos, it will benefit all Americans, as Latino judges bring valuable insight to the bench. It will send a message of inclusion to other fields, like the media and entertainment, where Latinos are under-represented.
Gustavo Gelpí himself is an example of why representation matters. He has written in the past about the racist principles underlying The Insular Cases, a series of Supreme Court rulings from the early 20th century that limited constitutional protections for people living in U.S. territories. He has highlighted the fact that U.S. citizens in our territories do not have the same rights as other Americans. No doubt his perspective was influenced by his being a native of San Juan. And Gelpí is no raging liberal; he was originally nominated to the District Court in Puerto Rico in 2006 by George W. Bush.
President Biden must step up the pace of Latinos nominated to the federal judiciary. Latinos deserve fair and proportional representation at every level of the judicial branch, and our courts must reflect the communities that they serve.
Raul A. Reyes is an immigration attorney and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors. A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, he is also a contributor to NBCNews.com and CNN Opinion. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaulAReyes, Instagram: raulareyes1.