In his opinion piece, Sharpton outlines his reasons for visiting Wilmington Thursday, Oct. 31 to advocate for diversity on the Delaware courts.
As demographics in the United States continue to shift towards ever-increasing diversity, there is meaningful demand for our judicial system to reflect the populations they serve. Diversifying police departments is meaningless if the courts responsible for serving equitable justice is still stuck in the past. The neglect is apparent: minority populations, who rightfully hold deep distrust and suspicion of the courts, have continuously and disproportionately been underrepresented and underserved.
Judges in state courts fail to reflect the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of the communities they represent.
Why is it that Delaware, a state of nearly 30% non-white individuals, has never had a person of color serve on their state’s highest court? Discrimination and systemic barriers are embedded in our nation’s judicial system, and lack of representation continues to oppress minority populations. African Americans and Hispanics are significantly more likely to be incarcerated than Whites. It is not a coincidence that research also proves that broadening viewpoints on court benches leads to more equitable sentencing and confidence in our judicial system.
Although I haven’t been a part of the TransPerfect case or the employees’ efforts to create the Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware group, I am moved by the organization’s strides in garnering Delawareans to become civil rights activists on their own. Regardless of the messenger, this conversation is embraced by Delaware residents because they are the ones impacted by the deep inequities in their judicial system.
As a leader, it is vital to include new and diverse perspectives to avoid only including a single point of view when making decisions. As such, when judges make decisions that affect people's lives, from healthcare access to education equity, it is vital they stand with people on the ground and listen as they voice their concerns and advocate for representation. How many of the judges on the supreme court know what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck or not to have healthcare? How can we expect people to make real life decisions if they aren’t living in real life? Promoting diverse community voices helps create fair systems of justice.
Delaware is one of only 18 states that has never had an African American justice on the high court. Delaware has also never had a Latino or Asian-American on its Supreme Court. Although the lack of diversity in our nation’s court sits at a crisis level, Delaware stands at a unique position to right its wrongs.
With Delaware’s historic failure when it comes to judicial diversity, and an opening on the state’s Supreme Court, it is irresponsible to silence any organization whose message holds true. Part of being the change is listening. Lawyers, judges and courts need to listen. We have an opportunity to make history. It is imperative that we continue with the momentum for change.
Diverse representation in leadership is a real issue affecting real people. Activists and pastors have been fighting for social justice for too long to let this moment pass. I plan to come to Delaware and keep fighting, so we can tell the governor that we need this change to build a fair justice system for all Delawareans.
This op ed was written prior to Gov. John Carney’s announcement to appoint Vice Chancellor Tamika Montgomery-Reeves to the Supreme Court but Rev. Sharpton will still be coming to Delaware to support Senate approval and call for diversity on the Chancery Court where Vice Chancellor Montgomery-Reeves’ vacancy will create a Chancery with no persons of color.