Demand Justice Calls on Presidential Candidates to Commit to Diversifying Federal Bench by Not Appointing Any More Corporate Lawyers

August 21, 2019

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Already, 6 in 10 Sitting Federal Appeals Court Judges are Former Corporate Lawyers

72% of Democratic Voters Say They Agree Next Democratic President Should Stop Nominating Any More Corporate Lawyers

WASHINGTON, DC—Demand Justice, a progressive advocacy organization focused on the federal courts, launched a new campaign Wednesday pressuring the Democratic presidential candidates to promise not to nominate any more corporate lawyers to the federal bench if elected.

The push, the group says, is a necessary step to loosen corporate America’s tight grip on the federal judiciary. Since John Roberts became Chief Justice of the United States, the Chamber of Commerce has prevailed in 70 percent of its cases before the Supreme Court. This win streak includes landmark rulings that have allowed unlimited corporate cash to be spent on federal elections, expanded the use of forced arbitration in employment contracts, and hurt public-sector unions’ ability to collect fees to fund their activities.

In recent years, the federal bench has become wildly unrepresentative of the legal profession as a whole. Six in 10 sitting federal appeals court judges are former corporate lawyers. Demand Justice is pressuring Democrats to bring diversity to the bench by prioritizing labor lawyers, public interest lawyers and academics who have studied the law from the vantage point of workers and consumers.

The push was announced in an op-ed by Demand Justice co-founders Brian Fallon and Christopher Kang that appeared in The Atlantic.

“We believe a Democratic president who follows Trump must show a new level of boldness, adopting a simple, but revolutionary principle: We don’t need any more corporate lawyers on the federal bench,” Fallon and Kang write. “That means, for example, choosing lawyers who represent workers, consumers, and civil-rights plaintiffs or who have studied the law from that vantage point.”

The group also said it would be issuing its own shortlist of potential Supreme Court picks in the coming weeks. It will exclude corporate lawyers.

In the op-ed, Demand Justice officials said it was defining “corporate lawyer” as “a lawyer who achieves partner status at a corporate law firm—such as the large firms known collectively as BigLaw—or who serves as in-house counsel at a large corporation.” Under this definition, lawyers who worked as associates for only a few years at a corporate law firm would not be excluded.

The stance is popular with progressives. In April, a YouGov poll conducted on behalf of Demand Justice found that 72 percent of likely Democratic primary voters agreed with the principle that the next president should stop appointing corporate lawyers to be federal judges.

Discussion of Court-related issues has been on the rise in the presidential campaign. President Trump’s politicization of the courts has been criticized by almost every candidate running for the Democratic nomination, and many candidates have expressed openness to structurally reforming the Supreme Court. The next step is to urge the candidates to offer their vision of what makes for a good judge, and say whether they will shift the paradigm when it comes to the types of nominees they will prioritize.

In the coming weeks, Demand Justice plans to run ads on this issue in the early primary states, and will have in-state organizers and volunteers directly question candidates whether they will commit to no more corporate lawyers.

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