Kansas judiciary shows little racial diversity

(AP Photo/Topeka Capital-Journal, Thad Allton)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The lack of diversity among Kansas judges was on display last month when Kansas Chief Justice Lawton Nuss gave his annual State of the Judiciary address.

Of the 20 appellate court jurists in Kansas, only one face was non-white. Appeals Court Judge Henry W. Green, an African-American, is the only non-white judge above the district court level in Kansas, the Lawrence Journal-World reports.

Overall, racial minorities make up just 3 percent of the 287 judges at the district, appellate and Supreme Court levels, the Office of Judicial Administration says. There are four African-American judges, five Hispanics, and one Asian-American. The percentage is far lower than the state’s overall non-white population, which the most recent census estimates at 23 percent.

“It’s a terrible situation, actually,” said Anne Burke, an Overland Park attorney who chairs the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission.

The result, says Court of Appeals Judge Karen Arnold-Burger, is a court that does not look like the community it serves, and that can have serious consequences.

“Studies have been done that say people are more likely to comply with orders of a court, and more likely to respect a court’s decision, if the court looks like them,” she said. “If you have a bench with no one of color on it, then when people of color come before the court, they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that they are not going to be understood, that the system is stacked against them.”

Burke, who has chaired that commission for six years and previously served on similar district court nominating commissions, said part of the problem is that very few minority lawyers apply for those positions.

“What I’ve experienced at both the district court and Supreme Court levels is the dearth of applications for these positions,” she said. “I don’t have a theory as to why people of color aren’t applying. It would be nice to see our bench more representative of our demographics.”

Christi Bright, a Lenexa attorney who chairs the Kansas Bar Association’s Diversity Committee, said another factor is the lack of diversity in the legal community itself.

Washburn Law School Dean Thomas J. Romig said that’s not for a lack of trying.

“Both KU and Washburn have been trying very hard to recruit qualified minorities of all ethnic groups because it makes for richer diversity in the law school,” Romig said. “There is a very small pool of people applying for law school in these groups, and those applicants are often pulled out to law schools in other states.”



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