Posted: Sept. 27, 2016
A JUDICIARY THAT LOOKS MORE LIKE DELAWARE
By Celia Cohen
Jim McGiffin has been nominated to be a judge on the Delaware Family Court, and his confirmation by the state Senate is really a no-brainer.
McGiffin is a state Senate attorney, one of the upper chamber's own. Not only that, the confirmation vote is set for a special session on Oct. 13, less than a month before the election, when the state senators generally would rather not attract attention to themselves but just whistle past the voters.
McGiffin is in line for a Democratic seat on the Family Court in Kent County due to the retirement of Bill Walls, who is the last judge guaranteed to leave before the political calendar strikes eight years on Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, and the state constitution says he has to go.
It has fallen to Markell to execute an extreme judicial makeover.
He appointed or reappointed four-fifths of the state judiciary because of an unusual number of retirements, most notably by Myron Steele, who was the chief justice, the upward mobility that followed, and the natural expiration of 12-year terms.
Markell took the opportunity to shift the makeup of the judiciary toward looking more the demographics of Delaware as a whole.
He did not get it all the way there, but he made serious progress to reflect a state that statistics from the U.S. Census say is the home of about 946,000 people, whose composition is 52 percent female/48 percent male and 63 percent white/37 percent minority.
When Markell took office in January 2009, the state's 56 judgeships were 79 percent male/21 percent female and 89 percent white/11 percent minority.
Now in Markell's final year, the state's 58 judgeships -- two Superior Court seats were added -- are 62 percent male/38 percent female and 83 percent white/17 percent minority. The most dramatic change was the Family Court, which flipped from 11 men and six women on the bench in 2009 to six men and 11 women today, if McGiffin's pending appointment is included.
Naturally the political balance of the courts has barely budged.
The state constitution requires the judgeships to be divided between Democrats and Republicans, and although Markell and the Democrats who run the state Senate have put a partisan thumb on the judicial scales where they can, the constitutional check protects the political balance.
Source: Governor's Office of Boards & Commissions; Administrative Office of the Courts