Rhode Island: bill requiring Judicial Nominating Commission name at least one person of color for every judicial vacancy stalls in committee

Legislation introduced last month in the Rhode Island House that would require the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) send at least one person of color for every judicial vacancy in the state has been held for further study possibly stalling out for the session.

HB 7455 amends the current law, which requires a list of 3-5 names, to add that the list “shall include a person of color.” The bill also requires that in making appointments to the JNC the governor and others “ensure that the membership of the commission reflects the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of the state’s population.”

During debate (video here) two problems with the bill were discussed. First, the JNC’s voluntary forms that ask for applicants to identify their race and ethnicity are not always filled out by applicants, making it impossible to determine the race and ethnicity of applicants. Second, if no person of color applies for a vacancy, it would be impossible for the JNC to send a list. The author of the bill argued the bench should reflect the diversity of the state, reviewed the racial composition of the various courts in the state, and accused the JNC of using “bogus” reasons for rejecting the names of attorneys of color for vacancies.