Texas has a troubled history when it comes to racial equality, from unequal access to voting to disparities in criminal sentences among different races. Problems in the criminal justice system have been recognized for decades. Advocates believe that one reason for the inequality in criminal courts is the disproportionate number of prosecutors in office and judges on the bench.
The first hurdle: law school
Before being elected to be a county prosecutor or a judge, a person must complete law school (in most states) and become an attorney. Unfortunately, African Americans and other minorities often face challenges getting through school that are often not seen by white students, and these difficulties can extend to the ability to get accepted to graduate school in the first place. Once black students are accepted to law school, they have a higher chance of dropping out than their peers.
Though African Americans comprise 13% of the U.S. population, only 5% of attorneys are black; this percentage has not varied much from 2009 to 2019. Only 7.5% of first-year enrollees in law school in 2019 were black, according to a survey by the American Bar Association.
The number of black judges in the criminal justice system
Underrepresentation in the legal field means that, despite being elected, prosecutors and judges have less minority representation. In a Gavel Gap study, which looks at the demographics of state court judges, Texas was given a “D” rating. Texas is not the only state where blacks and other people of color are underrepresented: in one county, where people rallied over the sentencing of a black man, all of the trial judges are white, despite black people comprising as much as 12.3% of the population.
Prevalence of white judges
Though black people comprise a small portion of the population, black people and other people of color combined make up over half. Despite this, fewer than two in 10 state judges are people of color. This can be disconcerting, as research has shown that a judge’s background, upbringing, race, and gender can impact his or her decisions. You can probably see from these findings why it is a good idea to speak to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after being arrested.