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Md. high court ranks high in gender, ethnic diversity, report finds

The Maryland Court of Appeals is among the nation’s most diverse state supreme courts in terms of the percentage of minority and female judges, according to data the Brennan Center for Justice recently released.

Maryland and California lead the 50 states with 43% of their high court judges being minority women, the law and policy research center stated in its “State Supreme Court Diversity” report released last month. Maryland was in the top 14% of states, with a high court bench comprised 43% of minority judges.

The Court of Appeals, at 57%, is one of only 14 state high courts that are majority female. Washington leads the nation with a supreme court that is 88% female, the report found.

Nationally, 41% of state high court judges are women and 18% are people of color, the center stated in its fourth annual study.

Retired Court of Appeals Judge Irma S. Raker, the second woman appointed to Maryland’s high court, hailed the center’s findings regarding the state.

“It is certainly a nice change from when I went on the court (in 1994) and it was a court of six men and me,” Raker said Wednesday. “Diversity in its many, many forms adds to the richness of the discussions, the perspectives of the judges and the credibility of the court.”

The report praised Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s appointment this year of Angela M. Eaves to the high court as a “notable milestone.”

Eaves, who is Panamanian born and Black, is the first Hispanic judge on the Court of Appeals.

The center noted that Hogan, stating his desire for a diverse bench, sought more applicants for a vacant high-court seat after the first seven candidates were all white. Eaves was among the second batch of applicants to succeed retired Court of Appeals Judge Robert N. McDonald.

“I have made it a top priority to ensure the composition of our courts reflects the great diversity of our state – including appointing the first Hispanic to our highest court,” Hogan said last week in a tweet that accompanied a Maryland Matters report on the Brennan study.

Eaves is one of four female judges on the seven-member Court of Appeals. The other women are Shirley M. Watts, Michele D. Hotten and Brynja M. Booth.

Booth and Hotten, who is Black, are Hogan appointees. Watts, the Court of Appeals’ first Black female judge, was appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley in 2013.

The high court’s three men, all white, are Chief Judge Matthew J. Fader and Judges Jonathan Biran and Steven B. Gould.

The Court of Appeals did not have a Black judge until Harry A. Cole joined the bench in 1977 following his appointment by acting Gov. Blair Lee III.

Rita C. Davidson became the high court’s first female judge in 1979 after Lee appointed her.

Gov. Parris Glendening named the Court of Appeals first Black chief judge, Robert M. Bell, in 1996.

Bell was succeeded in 2013 by the first female chief judge, Mary Ellen Barbera. She was appointed by O’Malley.