OUR STORIES, OURSELVES: Only 45 federal judges!


Is that a lot or a little?: A funny thing happened over the weekend as we read the Washington Post. 

We stumbled upon a shocking statistic—a statistic which helped to highlight the street-fighting greatness of our current liberal / progressive tribe.

"We tell ourselves stories in order to live," the late Joan Didion once alleged. The statistic in question helps cast a light on the story our liberal tribe is currently telling itself—and perhaps on the ways we misstate and mislead in our lust to Keep Story Alive.

The shocking statistic to which we refer appeared in a Washington Post report by Williams and Wootson. The report concerned the reactions of some black women to President Biden's nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

Early on, one observer said she was "over the moon" about the nomination, in part because of the way the highly-qualified Judge Jackson wears her hair. Soon, though, the rubber hit the road—and we encountered that statistic. 

The reporters quoted Taneisha Means, an assistant professor of political science at Vassar:

WILLIAMS AND WOOTSON (2/27/22): Means, whose scholarship has focused on Black women in the judiciary, notes that the path to the Supreme Court, narrow for any individual, is almost impassable for Black women. In modern times, most appointees to the court have come from the Ivy Leagues and have clerked for federal judges.

“If White men are overrepresented in the judiciary and they’re selecting who they want to work with in their offices, will they select people who look like them? Yes, unless they prioritize having diverse clerks,” she said.

Jackson clerked for Breyer, the justice she has been nominated to replace.

Supreme Court nominees also tend to come from the federal bench. Means said there are only 45 Black female federal judges out of more than 780 active federal judges. That’s in part because Black women are still fighting for equitable treatment in political parties and ideological groups, which tend to elevate the names for consideration.

Making a long story short, Means said the path to the Court is "almost impassable" for black women, in part due to their limited numbers on the federal bench.

According to Means, there are only 45 black female federal judges out of more than 780 active federal judges. Especially given the context, it was obvious how Post readers were supposed to react to those numbers.

Provisionally, our reaction was different. As we swung into action, we did the first part of the math.

Using the numbers the Post had provided (45 out of 780), we performed a basic calculation. As it turned out, black women constitute 5.8% of all federal judges—but was that a lot or a little?

It seemed to us that that might be close to proportional representation. Plainly, that isn't the assessment toward which the Post was directing its readers, but we decided to check it out.

Assessment becomes harder at this point. Given the complexity of American demographic sifting, it's hard to say, with perfect accuracy, what percentage of the population is black, let alone black and female. 

The project becomes that much harder if you want to restrict your search to the portion of the population which, by the simple metric of age, would be eligible for a seat on the federal bench.

Some nations provide no racial / ethnic compilations of their populations at all. The presentations by our Census Bureau can at times be hard to sort out. 

But just as a starting point, we'll offer this report from the Census Bureau. In this presentation, the Bureau is talking about non-Hispanic blacks of all ages:

CENSUS BUREAU (8/12/21): In 2020, the Black or African American alone population (41.1 million) accounted for 12.4% of all people living in the United States, compared with 38.9 million and 12.6% in 2010.

This is a basic way to unpack this riddle—a basic starting-point. This is the way USA Today limned the Census Bureau report when those figures were released last year:

QUARSHIE AND SLACK (8/12/21): The United States experienced unprecedented multiracial population growth and a decline in the white population for the first time in the nation’s history, according to U.S. Census officials, who released data Thursday revealing the most sweeping picture of America’s racial and ethnic makeup in a decade.

“These changes reveal that the US population is much more multiracial, and more racially and ethnically diverse, than what we measured in the past,” said Nicholas Jones, the director of race, ethnicity, research and outreach for the Census Bureau's population division.

The white, non-Hispanic population, without another race, decreased by 8.6% since 2010, according to the new data from the 2020 census. The U.S. is now 57.8% white, 18.7% Hispanic, 12.4% Black and 6% Asian.

Those numbers may be the simplest way to sort our nation's racial/ethnic blend. (The Census Bureau treats "Hispanic" as an ethnicity, not as a race.)  

Having said that, the problem is this:

Using those numbers, black females are just over 6% of the American population—and they hold just under 6% of all federal judgeships. To the extent that there's any "under-representation" at all, the shortfall is rather slim.

Plainly, the newly performative Washington Post was attempting to convey a different impression in the passage under review. Plainly, the Post report conveyed the sense that black women were vastly under-represented on the federal bench. 

Supposedly, this made it "impassably hard" for a black woman to get nominated to the Supreme Court. Unless there's something crazily wrong with those basic demographic numbers, the impression conveyed by the Post is very hard to sustain.

For the record, those numbers aren't perfect. On the one hand, the black portion of the population grows if you sift things a different way. 

For example, this QuickFacts publication by the Census Bureau puts the black population at 13.4% of the total population as of July 2021. We assume that number includes Hispanics who identify as black, though the Bureau routinely makes little or no attempt to explain such basic matters.

On the one hand, black female under-representation grows by half a percentage point if we use that larger number. Black females are now something like 6.7% of the population while holding only 5.8% of seats on the federal bench.

On the other hand, our country's black population is disproportionately young. We'll guess that black women may not be under-represented at all if you restrict your comparison to the population which is qualified by age to sit on the federal bench.

Briefly, can we talk?

Rather plainly, the Washington Post floated a statistic which was intended to be startling. Out of 780 seats on the federal bench, only 45 are currently held by black women!

This performative newspaper's well-trained subscribers were supposed to gasp in surprise. This follows a basic precept of our newly performative tribe: 

No racial complaint left behind.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep but quite routinely, our upper-end journalists just aren't stupendously sharp. Either that, or they're deeply committed to the prevailing Storylines / scripts of our self-impressed tribe.

This brings us to the tragic shooting death our journalists refuse to stop novelizing—and misrepresenting.

"We tell ourselves stories in order to live," the late Joan Didion claimed. We also manufacture stories to show we belong to the tribe, and to prove our moral greatness.

We tell ourselves stories in order to craft our identities. Inevitably, we're the good, smart, decent people within the frequently dreamlike stories we insist on telling ourselves.

At present, the story we liberals tell ourselves is built around questions of race.  

In the face of our nation's brutal history, you'd think we'd want to be respectful concerning the stories we tell. But when it comes to these treasured stories, we have an unmistakable tendency to leave amazingly few bogus claims behind.

Tomorrow: The candy stays in the picture


  1. Take it from Bob, the guy who repeats the debunked tale about Trayvon Martin bashing Zimmerman's head on the sidewalk, we need to be careful about the stories we tell.

    1. Hey, can you point me to where that was debunked?

    2. I also would like to see a cite for that claim.

    3. Haha, I see 1:23 was fooled by the stunt by the defense lawyer carrying a hunk of concrete into the courtroom . LOL

    4. So I guess no cite is forthcoming.

    5. Rationalist, you cannot prove a negative. No one testified to seeing Martin banging Zimmerman's head on the sidewalk. How do you "cite" the absence of specific testimony when it isn't there?

    6. Martin banging Zimmerman's head on the sidewalk is Bob's story line. He should cite it.

    7. Well, it's far from clear what happened, this is true, there are contradictory witness statements and other evidence.

      But I don't think it's fair to refer to it as the "debunked tale about Trayvon Martin bashing Zimmerman's head on the sidewalk."

      From Wikipedia:

      The only eyewitness to the end of the confrontation stated that Martin was on top of Zimmerman and punching him, while Zimmerman was yelling for help.


      A witness who arrived shortly after the shooting revealed photos that he took that night that showed "blood trickling down the back of Zimmerman's head from two cuts. It also shows a possible contusion forming on the crown of his head". In revealing the photo to ABC News in mid-April, he noted that he had heard but had not seen the scuffle, had been the first to arrive, and had been the first to talk to Zimmerman after the shooting.


      One eyewitness statement given the night of the shooting describes "a black male, wearing a dark colored 'hoodie' on top of a white or Hispanic male who was yelling for help." The witness said that the black male was throwing punches "MMA [mixed martial arts] style."


      According to Zimmerman, Martin then punched him in the face, knocking him down, and began beating his head against the sidewalk.


      ABC News reported that a medical report compiled by Zimmerman's family physician showed that, following the altercation with Martin, Zimmerman was diagnosed with a closed fracture of his nose, two black eyes, lacerations to the back of his head, a minor back injury, and bruising in his upper lip and cheek.


      On June 26, 2012, the prosecution released the results of a voice stress test performed on George Zimmerman the day after the shooting.[169][170] Zimmerman was asked, "Did you confront the guy you shot?", to which Zimmerman answered, "No." Zimmerman was asked, "Were you in fear for your life, when you shot the guy?", to which Zimmerman answered, "Yes."[169] The examiner concluded that Zimmerman "told substantially the complete truth" in the examination, and Zimmerman was classified as "No Deception Indicated (NDI)" according to the report.


      In recordings of the 9-1-1 calls, yells for help are audible in the background. Zimmerman's family says it was Zimmerman yelling for help, Martin's family says it was Martin yelling for help, and independent audio analysts offer differing opinions as to who was yelling for help.

    8. Other than from a completely unreliable Zimmerman, no witness claimed Martin was bashing Zimmerman's head against a concrete sidewalk.

      It makes more sense that Zimmerman got those two small cuts (lacerations) on the back of his head from falling after Martin stood his ground and punched him in the face.

    9. It is fair to say debunked.

      It is also fair to say that whoever offers those quotes from Wikipedia is operating in bad faith. Lots of reports but zero facts; the fact is, there was no evidence testified to in court that indicated Zimmerman was pounded into concrete or pounded in any other way. Zimmerman's medical condition after the incident precludes any such pounding; it is total nonsense. If you dig into things like Zimmerman's medical report from his personal doctor, vs disinterested witnesses to his condition, it is clear that Zimmerman did not suffer injuries as the result of being pounded in any way. The slight injury to his nose is more in line with resulting from being in contact with his gun. Furthermore it is clear from the lack of medical evidence indicating that Zimmerman could reasonably fear imminent death or great bodily harm, that it is trivial to find him guilty. Zimmerman's guilt is further reinforced by his disgusting and racist behavior after the trial. Zimmerman's particular jury did not find him guilty, and neither did the jury in the case of Emmett Till's killers, or numerous other similar cases.

      This is the hill dumb motherfuckers like Somerby want to die on, ignoring that people of color are massively outclassed on every significant measure of society. Either that is because people of color are inferior, genetically inferior, or it's racial oppression on a systemic and institutional level.


  2. "Some nations provide no racial / ethnic compilations of their populations at all. "

    Yes, dear Bob: France, among the western states. It's forbidden to collect and publish bullshit stats there.

    And good for them. Bravo. That's what a modern state must be: a body of its citizens.

    1. Forbidding the publishing of bullshit stats is just a way to silence Republicans.

    2. Do you have a finical interest in keeping track of The Daily Howler, making sure Bob only critiques leftish news outlets?

  3. This nominee is as qualified as any other and Biden has the right to nominate whoever he wants. Anything beyond that is bigotry. No one needs to justify her existence on the court using denographic statistics. The under-representation (in this case complete lack of representation) is obvious from the fact that there have no previous black women nominated or sitting on the court, ever.

    While Somerby plays this silly statistical game, he ignores the gross over-representation of white catholic judges on the supreme court. What % of our population is Catholic? The supreme court includes 6 Catholics out of 9 justices.

    Somerby has invented an age requirement that he uses to put his thumb on the scales in favor of his argument. There is none. But this whole approach is nonsensical. It is Biden's duty to nominate a judge and he has done so. The reaction is racial farce.

  4. "No racial complaint left behind."

    Somerby says this because he thinks black women are not underrepresented on some other level of the judiciary, never mind that the complaint has been about the Supreme Court, which has never had a black female justice ever.

    Talk about shifting goalposts. A scholar suggested that black women do not have access to the political ears that would result in their appointment at higher levels and Somerby looks at the level where they are found and says that is enough black women for him.

    This kind of reaction is what Somerby's brand of bigotry looks like. He plays a demographic game to shut down any further progress for black women (and incidentally our nation, as it attempts to achieve civil rights). But his message is sit down and shut up and stop complaining and maybe someone other than a white Catholic male will be appointed someday.

    Incidentally, no liberal makes this sort of argument.

    1. What Bob is committed to not mentioning is the right's approach "No racial complaint left underided."
      There is plenty of room in the center of these two extremes, and we could sure use some good writing on the subject. But Bob is such a right partisan now he probably wouldn't get it. -Greg

    2. The middle -- are you suggesting splitting a black woman in half? If you leave her off the court, you support the status quo. If you appoint her, you make progress. There is no middle ground here.

    3. Remember this classic?

      Solomon announced that the child should be cut in two, so that each mother should have half. The real mother, unable to bear her son being killed, immediately offered it to the other woman, to save the child's life, whereas the other agreed to the proposal.

      Okay I won't let the door hit me...

  5. A Republican got away with heckling Obama during his SOTU, and now we have to put up with a constant stream of heckling by Boebert and MTG. This is disrespectful to the office of the presidency and the solemnity of the occasion. More than that, when the other Republicans fail to chastise their own members, it chips away at respect for American institutions and makes us look weaker in enemy eyes, at a point of military crisis where American leadership is being tested. Why do these women think it is OK to do this? Because of what happened with Obama and because of Trump's own lack of respect for any aspect of government or national tradition.

    These are awful people and it is time to say so. If we fail to do that, we give permission to those who would do worse, and we make it appear that we have no respect for our own leadership. The Republican party needs to police its own members. But until that happens, there is no way on earth that I am going to make nice with any others, people who cannot keep their own clown show from undermining our nation's efforts to resist Russian tyranny.

    "Understanding" the Others is off the table until those others start behaving like adults who care about our nation, and that includes our former president too.

  6. "In the face of our nation's brutal history, you'd think we'd want to be respectful concerning the stories we tell. But when it comes to these treasured stories, we have an unmistakable tendency to leave amazingly few bogus claims behind."

    What is the bogus claim? There are zero (0) black women on the Supreme Court.

    No one has been making a claim about representation on the lower courts except Somerby. No one said there were too few black women there. The scholar he quotes said they had difficulty getting past that level because it was hard for them to catch the eye/ear of politicians who make higher appointments. That is the essence of a glass ceiling, by the way.

    Then Somerby talks about bogus claims, but the claim he examined is a strawman, not part of the argument about whether a black woman should be appointed to the Supreme Court.

    Simply referring to bogus claims, without pointing any out except his own, makes it seem like liberals are always making such false statistical arguments. That is untrue.

    There are some small number of qualified black female judges eligible for appointment to the Supreme Court and there are no black women who have previously been appointed whatsoever, none.

    But the most misleading claim, the most bogus claim, is that appointment to the Supreme Court relies on demographics and quotas, when it obviously does not. The president nominates a justice and the Senate confirms the nominee. End of story. This president sees value in diversity because he is liberal. Somerby does not, because he is an asshole. So he invents an argument intended to show that the left makes bogus claims, thereby disqualifying a black female from the highest court? I don't think it works that way.

    If Kavanaugh, who lied under oath about his past drinking and molesting women, potentially purjuring himself, can be on the court, then a highly respected black judge who has no such liabilities in her past is qualified too. And most of us liberals would consider her more qualified than a female nominee selected for her anti-abortion stance and conservative views, as Amy Coney Barrett was.

    If Somerby we not dishonest, he would make a straightforward argument against her qualifications. Instead he plays games with numbers, pretending it only a matter of bogus claims and not his own opposition to a black woman serving in a high position. And that's why Somerby is a despicable turd. He thinks like Trump but won't take responsibility for his opinions.

  7. Unfortunately for black women, who represent 6.6% of the US population, 6.6% of 9 is less than one, so I guess there being no black women on the Supreme Court is perfectly in line with Somerby’s statistics.

  8. Personally I don't care what the statistics are. Yes representation can be measured and sliced and diced, but at the same time this country hasn't stopped beating the shit out of black people. We're nowhere near a classless society that makes race obsolete. So of course I think it's fair to (hopefully) put in a qualified black woman not as reparations, but as something to do in place of reparations.

    1. *something to do while we wait for the country to understand the need for reparations

    2. Reparations are never going to happen.

    3. It doesn't work like that.