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Report highlights lack of diversity across Mountain West’s state supreme courts

The Supreme Court of Nevada’s seven justices, who are all white, pose for a picture inside the courtroom. Three justices are seated while four justices are standing. They are looking toward the camera while smiling.
Nevada’s state supreme court (above) is one of 20 in the nation that doesn’t have a single justice identifying as a person of color, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

A new analysis on diversity in state supreme courts shows that many do not have a single justice identifying as a person of color. That’s the case in most of the Mountain West.

The report, published in May by the Brennan Center for Justice, found 20 states have zero supreme court judges of color, including Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada.

In each of those states except Montana, Latino residents make up at least 10% of the population. In Nevada, they make up nearly 30%.

Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, says the analysis lays bare a serious problem, especially as the population becomes increasingly diverse.

“Having a justice who has some understanding and appreciation of the context – community context – from which those cases may arise would improve decision making, improve precedent establishing by those courts,” Saenz said.

New Mexico has the region’s most diverse supreme court bench, with two of its five justices identifying as a person of color. In both Arizona and Colorado, two of seven justices are a person of color.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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