An indefensible lack of diversity on the U.S. District Court in Chicago

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We are saddened by the untimely death of Judge William J. Hibbler, who at his death was one of only three African Americans serving as a U.S. District Judge in Chicago. The officers and members of the Illinois Judicial Council wish to convey our deep symp

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We are saddened by the untimely death of Judge William J. Hibbler, who at his death was one of only three African Americans serving as a U.S. District Judge in Chicago. The officers and members of the Illinois Judicial Council wish to convey our deep sympathy upon the loss of this remarkable man and join in extending to his bereaved family our heartfelt sympathy and pray that his family derive some measure of comfort in the knowledge that we share their grief with them.

Judge Hibbler’s passing has removed from our midst a fair and sympathetic jurist, who always sought to do his duty honorably and justly. All of us have suffered a great loss. However, in his passing we regrettably pause to note a surprising and shocking fact. Despite the rich racial diversity of greater metropolitan Chicago, there is an indefensible lack of diversity on the U.S. District Court. Only two African-American judges remain on the District Court and one, Judge Blanche Manning, has assumed senior status, which means because of her age she is semi-retired and works part-time. Senior judges do not occupy seats, instead, their seats become vacant, and the President may appoint new full-time judges to fill their vacancies. In Chicago, with a large African-American population, racial diversity on the federal bench is a much lauded but seemingly elusive goal. The percentage of African-American judges serving falls well below the percentage of African-Americans in the general population. Racial diversity is an important virtue to building a court that is both excellent and respected by the general population. The judiciary as a whole should be comprised of judges from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints. The interaction of diverse viewpoints fosters impartiality by diminishing the possibility that one perspective dominates adjudication. The lack of diversity also exists on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals where only one African-American judge has served in the history of that court.

We know we can accomplish diversity on the court because it has been accomplished in the Illinois state courts where in Cook County we have 55 qualified African-American circuit judges, seven appellate justices and one supreme court justice.

Judge Hibbler’s passing leaves a void in our hearts and in the District Court that will be difficult to fill. He will be mourned long and sincerely by all who aspire to a better way of life. In his memory, we encourage Senator Dick Durbin to immediately recommend the appointment of qualified African-American judges to the U.S. District Court and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to remedy the embarrassing lack of diversity on the bench.

Judge Diane M. Shelley, Chair

Illinois Judicial Council

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