Photo: President Obama and SCJ Sonia Sotomayor
President Obama has made history in more than one way – namely becoming the nation’s first black president – but he has also become the first president to not select a majority of white males for lifetime judgeships, in an attempt to make the judiciary as diverse as possible.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina Justice after being nominated by Obama. Nearly three in four people appointed to federal judiciary positions have been ethnic minorities or female.
During Obama’s time in office, his administration also brought the first openly gay man to a federal judgeship, J. Paul. Oetken.
The Associated Press wrote:
For more than 140 years, there were no females or minorities among the nation’s federal judges.
The first female federal appellate judge was Florence Allen, who gained her seat on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1934. The first female U.S. District Court judge was Burnita Shelton Matthews, who took the bench in Washington, D.C., in 1950. William Henry Hastie Jr. was the first African-American U.S. District Court judge, sitting in the Virgin Islands in 1937 before being elevated to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1949.
Reynaldo G. Garza became the first Hispanic federal judge when he was appointed to the U.S. District Court in Texas in 1961, and Herbert Choy became the first Asian-American federal judge when he was appointed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1971.
Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court in 1967, and Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to be elevated to the nation’s highest court in 1981.