Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

The Appellate Project

“We . . . must continue individually and in voices united . . . to figure out how we go about creating the opportunity for there to be more women and people of color on the bench so we can finally have statistically significant numbers to measure the differences we will [be] and are making.” –Justice Sonia Sotomayer[i]

          The Appellate Project is an organization doing just that.  It is designed “to empower law students of color, particularly those most underrepresented, to become the next generation of lawyers and judges in our highest courts” and “thrive in the appellate field.”  It was founded in 2019 by civil rights litigator Juvaria Khan.  The organization offers programming, mentorship, and resources for law students to build the skills and connections needed to break into and succeed in the appellate field. 

        Their work is incredibly important.  Increased representation in appellate courts leads to an “enhance[d]. . . legitimacy of courts among traditionally underrepresented groups”[ii] and the public as a whole.[iii]  The value of legitimacy cannot be overstated because “[d]ecisions of our courts are to be complied with, even when we disagree with them.”[iv]

        And “diversity on the courts enriches judicial decisionmaking[;] . . . the interplay of perspectives of judges from diverse backgrounds and experiences makes for better judicial decisionmaking, especially on our appellate courts.”[v]  Studies have shown that “female and minority judges, on average, bring a different judicial perspective to the bench.”[vi]  Adding just one female judge “to an otherwise all-male panel significantly increases the probability that the male judges will support a plaintiff in sex discrimination or sexual harassment cases.”[vii]  And the inclusion of a single Black judge on a three-judge panel “increases the likelihood that a non[B]lack colleague will find that a state or locality violated the Voting Rights Act.”[viii]  In short, “the interaction of wise Latinas,[[ix]] white men and women, African Americans, Native American judges--just like the interaction of former prosecutors, defense counsel, corporate practitioners and in-house counsel--provides opportunities for a robust exchange that can inform appellate decisionmaking.”[x]

        The Appellate Project offers a mentorship program each year, pairing law students of color interested in appellate practice with two mentors in the appellate field, including attorneys, judges, professors, and law clerks.  If you are an appellate practitioner, I urge you to volunteer as a mentor.  And, if you are a student, this is a fantastic opportunity you don’t want to miss.  The deadline for this year’s mentorship program is October 13, 2023. 

 

[i] Hon. Sonia Sotomayor, A Latina Judge's Voice, 13 Berkeley La Raza L.J. 87, 93 (2002).

[ii] Jonathan P. Kastellec, Racial Diversity and Judicial Influence on Appellate Courts, 57 Am. J. Pol. Sci. 167, 168 (Jan. 2013).

[iii] Sherrilyn A. Ifill, Judicial Diversity, 13 Green Bag 2d 45, 48 (2009).

[iv] Id.

[v] Id. at 49.

[vi] Kastellec, supra n. ii, at 167.

[vii] Id. at 169.

[viii] Id. at 170.

[ix] In her speech, A Latina Judge’s Voice, Justic Sotomayor controversially stated, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.”  Sotomayor, supra n. i, at 92. She was later questioned about this statement during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings in the United States Senate.  Sotomayor Explains "Wise Latina" Comment, CBS News (July 14, 2009), available at: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/sotomayor-explains-wise-latina-comment/

[x] Ifill, supra n. iii, at 52.

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/appellate_advocacy/2023/10/the-appellate-project.html

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