Speaking at an event hosted by the left-leaning Alliance for Justice, an association of more than 100 groups who work on improving the justice system, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren criticized President Obama for putting forward so many judicial nominees whose prior experience was mainly with big firms representing corporations.
"We face a federal bench that has a striking lack of diversity," said Warren. "President Obama has supported some notable exceptions but ... the president's nominees have thus far been largely in line with the prior statistics."
Repeating points made in the AFJ's recent report on the federal judiciary's excess of former corporate lawyers, Warren noted that 71 percent of Obama nominees' prior experience was chiefly defending corporations. Just 3.6 percent of Obama's nominees, according to the report, have previously worked mainly for public interest organizations.
Warren warned that, in America, "Power is becoming more and more concentrated on one side." She recommended "professional diversity" in the judiciary, saying it would be "one way to insulate the courts from corporate capture."
Echoing Obama's previous comments about wanting his nominees to the Supreme Court to be empathetic, Warren said it matters whether a judicial nominee "has represented people other than corporate clients" and has "real experience with people who can't afford lawyers."
AFJ president Nan Aron, who also spoke at the event, gave the White House credit for recently stepping up its efforts to increase the professional diversity of its nominees. In mid-January, the president announced four district court nominees that Aron said all had backgrounds that are unrepresented in the judiciary.
"With now more than 50 vacancies without a nominee, and with more vacancies surely to emerge, there will be ample opportunity to turn these promising nominations into the norm rather than the exception," Aron said.
A White House aide said the president has always been committed to a diverse federal bench.
Obama evaluates candidates "based on their entire legal careers and professional backgrounds -- which can include time spent in private practice just like it can include time spent in various other forms of legal work," said the aide, who commented on condition of anonymity. "A candidate's current day job is not the only consideration of 'professional diversity,' and labeling someone 'corporate' cheapens the broad work of one’s legal career."