The Brennan Center for Justice’s State Supreme Court Diversity Update issued in May 2023 presented new data showing that Maryland continues to have one of the nation’s most diverse state supreme courts. According to the most recent Report, the Maryland judiciary is unique in its racial, gender, and experiential diversity, with 43% of Maryland’s high court justices identifying as people of color and 57% as women. Notably, in 20 states, no single member of the state supreme court identified as a person of color. The data offers a stark picture of the lack of diversity on state supreme court benches in many states and underscores the fact that high court positions are overwhelmingly filled by individuals who are both white and male.
This begs the question, how did Maryland’s judiciary become a national model for diversity? In the inaugural episode of the limited edition Spark Series Insightful Voices podcasts, Donna Hill Staton, one of the co-chairs of the MSBA’s 125th Thought Leadership Initiative and the Principal of the Decision Point Strategy Group, LLC, interviews the inimitable Honorable Andrea Leahy from the Appellate Court of Maryland to discuss the series of events and actions that “catalyzed the transformational shifts necessary for Maryland to have a diverse judiciary that . . . many of us may now take for granted” today.
Judge Leahy shares her on-the-ground perspective of navigating this sea-change in the Maryland judiciary and describes in detail the concerted by the Glendenning administration effort to shift the trajectory of the judiciary’s composition and the visible and lasting changes resulting from those efforts.
Appointed to the bench by Governor Martin O’Malley on February 24, 2014, Judge Leahy has been and continues to be a force in Maryland’s legal community. She graduated from American University Washington College of Law and was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1989. After law school, Judge Leahy served in several state law offices, including Prince George’s County Office of Law and Department of Environmental Resources, before being appointed Senior Legal Counsel and Director of the Office of Legal Counsel for Governor Parris Glendening. From 1995 to 1999, under the leadership of Governor Glendening, Leahy was one of the key architects of the effort to transform the merit selection process for judicial vacancies and reshape the state’s judiciary.
In an article entitled, “How One State Enhanced Diversity on the Bench – The Merit Selection Process in Maryland,” Leahy recounts how Governor Glendening called together a task force to study the judicial nominating process, which critics argued discriminated against women and minorities.
In the podcast, Judge Leahy digs into the role of the judicial nominating commissions and the immediate change that followed once the commissions were diversified, including the appointment of the first Hispanic judge on the Circuit Court and the first African American judge in Howard County, which was, interestingly, Donna Hill Staton, the interviewer herself. Upon sharing reflections on the experience of being one of “the firsts,” the podcast launches into a discussion of the lasting impact of the reforms, including the appointment of Maryland first female Chief Judge, the Honorable Mary Ellen Barbera. The podcast ends with questioning the work that needs to continue to ensure that increase in numbers result in meaningful inclusivity and addressing systemic issues that emerge from the diversification.
Judge Leahy continues being a changemaker, being one of the forces behind the creation of the new Cole-Davidson American Inn of Court, which was founded in response to concerns from the MSBA’s Appellate Practice Sub-Committee of the lack of diversity in the lawyers practicing before the appellate court. Among other things, the Inn aims to promote inclusion and confidence among diverse practitioners by providing educational experiences for lawyers and judges and creating wider inroads to legal networks and mentorship in the legal profession.
To learn more:
Judge Lynne A. Battaglia: Reflections on a Dynamic Career and the “Start of New Professional Experiences: https://cdn.laruta.io/app/uploads/sites/7/legacyFiles/uploadedFiles/MSBA/Member_Groups/Sections/Litigation/LitigatorMay2016.pdf
Report of the Special Joint Committee on Gender Bias in the Courts — May 1989: https://scholarworks.law.ubalt.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1570&context=ublr
To listen to the podcast, click below: