Economic justice

Judges with labor and economic justice experience represent only 6% of federal judges — AFJ

A new report from the AFJ reveals that corporate lawyers and former prosecutors dominate the federal court system, resulting in unfavorable rulings for workers and consumers.

Since 2011 alone, the Supreme Court has rendered 7 decisions that have harmed approximately 74 million workers and families.

WASHINGTON, DC, August 3, 2022 – Today the Alliance for Justice announced the release of a new special report titled Economic justice, judges and the law, a first-of-its-kind analysis detailing the severe underrepresentation of attorneys with labor and economic justice backgrounds among serving federal circuit court judges. The report finds that among active circuit court judges, 68% are former corporate lawyers and 28% are former prosecutors. The report also notes that judges with these legal backgrounds are much more likely to rule against workers and consumers than judges with other forms of legal expertise. In contrast, only 6% of active circuit court judges have experience in labor or economic justice, including labor law on the union side, wage and hour law on the employee side, consumer protection and civil legal aid.

“Our country faces several major crises, including unprecedented wealth disparities,” said Jenny Hunter, labor lawyer and lead author of the report. “We must acknowledge that Republicans’ 50-year campaign to pile the bench with prosecutors and lawyers on the business side has contributed to the hostility of the courts when it comes to the economic interests of ordinary Americans. Correcting this deficit of judges who have served on behalf of these Americans is a critical step in correcting these inequities. »

Of the dozens of diverse judges President Biden has appointed to the courts, only two circuit court nominees have had experience in an area of ​​labor or economic justice. One, Judge Jennifer Sung, was confirmed to serve on the Ninth Circuit, but four other active circuit court judges with backgrounds in economic justice announced they would take on higher status upon confirmation of their successors. , which means that the number of economic justice judges is about to decline. Currently, only 11 of the Federal Court of Appeal’s 171 active judges have experience in labor law on the union side, wage and hour law on the employee side, consumer protection and civil legal.

The special report also quantifies the harm caused by this lack of experience in economic justice on our federal courts. For example, just seven Supreme Court decisions since 2011 have caused economic harm to an estimated 74 million people, including workers, renters, pregnant women seeking abortions, consumers, and low-income people without health insurance. . This includes the cause of approximately 250,000 hospitalizations and 6,500 preventable deaths from COVID-19 since 2021, putting up to 17 million workers at increased risk of eviction during a pandemic and forcing 75,000 people into childbirth. next year, with a disastrous economic situation. consequences for themselves and their families.

“President Biden has taken exceptional steps to add professional and demographic diversity to the federal bench, but there is still a significant gap when it comes to judges with backgrounds representing workers and consumers in their pursuit of economic justice. », said Rakim HD Brooks, President of Alliance for Justice. “With only 6% of current circuit judges with experience representing the economic interests of workers and consumers, we have created a court system in which workers are much more likely to sit before a judge with union-busting or blocking experience. consumer protection that someone with the experience of representing people like them.

To remedy this situation and minimize future harm to workers and consumers, Alliance for Justice is calling on President Biden to prioritize the appointment of more judges with training in the legal practice of economic justice. The Senate should then quickly confirm these judicial nominees so that their influence can be felt as soon as possible.

“The American people deserve a federal bench that stands up for their rights and reflects the depth and breadth of their experiences, which is why I’m proud to have recommended a strong and diverse lineup of candidates to fill the vacancies in the Washington State and the Ninth Circuit,” said Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). “Judges like Tana Lin and Lauren King have spent their careers advocating for the rule of law and justice for all, regardless of background. People need to be confident that they will not only have their day in court, but that they will be heard by a judge who values ​​the rights of everyone – workers, women, immigrants, tribes – and not just the rich and powerful.

“It is abundantly clear that we need more judges on the federal bench who will protect the interests of American workers and consumers, not those of corporations and the privileged few,” said MP Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). “To combat the decades of insidious lawsuits in which Republicans have participated, we must confirm to the bench people who reflect our country’s diversity and have deep expertise in economic and labor justice.”

“The legal system should be the bastion of freedom and justice for all, but it is too often used as a tool by special interests to undermine the rights of workers and vulnerable people, whether of color, women or people with disabilities. our LGBTQ community,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “The current extremist majority on the Supreme Court is the direct result of a 50-year campaign by the radical right to fill the bench with corporate apologists who prioritize their own political agenda over established legal precedent that reflects the will of the people. This trend extends to our entire legal system; As this report shows, many judges are predisposed to siding with big business and less than 6% of circuit judges have pre-judge experience in union-side labor law, wage law and compensation law. schedules on the employee side, consumer protection or civil law. legal aid. Appointing lawyers who have based their legal careers on defending workers, not corporations, is how we move forward and begin to fix a legal system that favors the rich and well-connected and build a fairer, more equitable and just system for everything.”

“No matter where we live, what we look like, or where we’re from, all Americans deserve equal protection under the law,” said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association. “But too often workers find themselves before courts presided over by judges who have worked to advance the big business interests they face, which often results in an unjust and unfair federal court system. At a time when the rights of workers, public schools, educators and their students are under attack, the need for experiential diversity on the federal bench cannot be overstated. We continue to urge President Biden to correct this glaring imbalance of underrepresentation by appointing more judges with union labor law experience.

Click here to read the full report.