(CNSNews.com) - Speaking at the University of Chicago Law School on Thursday, President Barack Obama was asked by an audience member how his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court would bring “diverse characteristics” to that court.
In answering, Obama argued: “I have transformed the federal courts from a diversity standpoint with a record that's been unmatched.”
He also said: “But at no point did I say: Oh, you know what, I need a black lesbian from Skokie in that slot. Can you find me one?”
Question: So, I think we can agree that in our nation, we celebrate diversity. Diversity of ethnicity is the basis, the background. And I'm just wondering--well, of course, U of Chicago is a diversity of ideas. I'm just wondering what diverse characteristics Judge Garland would bring to the Supreme Court.
President Obama: Well, he’s from Skokie, which is very important. It's a great place. It's a great town. The way I've thought about diversity is not to think about any single seat as, oh, I've got to fill this slot with this demographic, but rather if I've got a broad set of nominees to make--and this is true across the board--how do I make sure that I'm intentional throughout that process so that the talent of every American is, and every potential candidate gets a fair look, and I have confidence that if I stick to that, if I do that, if I make sure that I'm broadening the search, broadening the pool, looking at a bunch of folks even if they’re not going through the conventional paths, that I'll end up--the process will result in diversity.
And that, in fact, is what’s happened. I am--not to brag--but I have transformed the federal courts from a diversity standpoint with a record that's been unmatched.
We've got more African Americans on the circuit courts than we ever has before. We've got--I've appointed more African American women to the federal courts than any other President before. I've appointed more Latinos than any president before. I've appointed more Native Americans, more Asian Americans, more LGBT judges than ever before.
But at no point did I say, oh, you know what, I need a black lesbian from Skokie in that slot. Can you find me one? I mean, that's just not how I've approached it. It turns out that if the process is fair and you are saying that it's important that our courts are reflective of a changing society, you’ll end up with a really good cross-section of people who are excellent. And that's who we've been able to appoint.
And so, when I looked at Merrick Garland, that was the person that--the difference between the Supreme Court is just a handful of seats come up at any given time now. I appointed a Latino woman and another woman right before that, so, yeah, he’s a white guy, but he’s a really outstanding jurist. Sorry. I think that's important.
But this speaks to the broader debate about diversity that I think is important and obviously churns up in college campuses a lot. The question is, have you set up a process and are you intentional about giving everybody a shot? And are you thinking about roadblocks to why we're not seeing a more diverse population? And when you start asking those questions--in whatever institution. I mean, I just met with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Combatant Commanders, our key military leaders. And the U.S. military, interestingly, has probably done as good of a job as any institution in our society when it comes to integration and bringing diverse people in, but, as you go up the ranks, you start seeing that it becomes less and less reflective of the broader population and the troops, the men and women in uniform who are coming in.
And so we had a really interesting conversation about what’s happening? How much of this is that the young African American or Latino officer, or woman officer isn't mentored by the person right above them, and steered into particular assignments that are less likely to achieve a promotion? And what can we do about a different set of financial burdens that may exist? And if a lot of those folks are going in as enlisted men and women, because that's the opportunity that was presented to them and nobody told them they could apply to West Point, what are we doing to find outstanding enlisteds, and saying, you’d make a good officer and we're going to groom you?
And all of that--that's not as satisfying as, when it comes to publicity, as just checking a box and saying, look, I appointed this person or that person in any particular slot. But that's where you start changing systems, and you start changing institutions, and you end up with a really broad-based change in access. And that's something that I really care deeply about because, just as is true in the military, it's true generally.
Look, our society is changing. You cannot have a successful America if we are leaving out big chunks of the population from opportunity and leadership. It just doesn’t work.