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August 2007

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


First All-Hispanic Panel Sits in Ninth Circuit

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit made judicial history in July when an appellate panel consisting of three judges of Hispanic descent heard oral arguments in Seattle. This was the first all-Hispanic panel to sit in any of the nation’s federal courts of appeals since they were established in 1891.

Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, Judge Arthur Alarcón, and Judge Ferdinand Fernandez comprised the panel. Judges Wardlaw and Alarcón have parents who were born in Mexico, while Judge Fernandez’ father was born in Spain and his mother was of Spanish descent. They are among six Hispanic judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the most on any circuit court in the country.

For Alarcón, appointed in 1979 by President Carter and currently the longest-serving Hispanic circuit judge in the country, an all-Hispanic panel may be overdue, but is gratifying nonetheless. “I would hope that it will encourage Hispanic kids that they can go after their dreams and achieve. There has never been a Hispanic on the Supreme Court and I think that’s something that will be available very soon,” he said.

Appellate panels are drawn randomly and there has been the possibility of an all-Hispanic panel in the Ninth Circuit since 1998. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has had at least three judges of Hispanic descent since 1994, but has not drawn an all-Hispanic panel yet. All told, there are currently 14 judges of Hispanic descent currently serving on the 12 regional courts of appeal and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, according to the Federal Judicial Center, which maintains a database on the gender and ethnicity of federal judges. The Second Circuit has two Hispanic judges and the First, Third and Tenth Circuits each have one.