Florida A & M University Law Review


Although having a diverse bench is instrumental to a fair judicial system, the first Mexican American was not appointed to the federal bench until 1961. In that year, President John F. Kennedy appointed Reynaldo G. Garza, to the U.S. federal bench as a district court judge. Judge Garza hoped that by becoming an "effective jurist" he would quell any scrutiny over his appointment and, moreover, "encourage [the] appointment of other qualified Mexican Americans to the federal bench." Judge Garza was the only Latino appointed to the federal bench until 1979 when President Jimmy Carter appointed several Latinos to the bench, as well as, appointing Judge Garza to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Latino community lobbied for and persistently requested that a Latino Supreme Court Justice be appointed for many years. When President Bill Clinton was elected they believed he would appoint a Latino to the highest court. They were, however, sorely disappointed. In 2009, President Barack Obama historically appointed the first Latina to the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. A lack of Latina and Latino judges exists at all levels of the judiciary. This article introduces the reader to Latina and Latino judges, serving at the city, state and federal level. The author had the honor of interviewing eighteen judges, including Hon. Sonia Sotomayor (she was a Second Circuit Court of Appeals judge at the time) and presents the interviews in the first part of the article. In this section, the judges detail their journeys to the bench. The article next details the history of Latina and Latino judges in the U.S. The article also discusses the appointment process to the federal bench and details the importance of having and keeping the "merit system" also known as the "Missouri Plan" to select judges to state court appointments. Ultimately, sharing their stories, the judges demonstrate the importance of having a diverse bench and discuss the necessary steps to increase the presence of Latinas and Latinos on the bench.