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1 of Texas’ 3 African-American Federal District Court Judges Retires

Judge Hoyt’s retirement highlights dual problems of diversity, Excess vacancies in Texas’ federal district courts
March 2, 2013

(TEXAS) – Texas Federal District Judge Kenneth Hoyt today formally retired from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, which he announced would happen back in July of 2012. When Judge Hoyt was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, he was only the second African-American federal judge in the state of Texas. Twenty-six years later, he retires, leaving – once again – Texas’s federal district courts with only two African American judges.

“With Judge Hoyt's retirement, we lose a talented and fair judge – and our courts lose a full third of the African-American representation on Texas’ federal bench,” said Matt Glazer, Executive Director of Progress Texas. “Texas is a diverse state: 12 percent of the population is African American and 38 percent is Hispanic. Our judiciary should reflect the diversity of our state so Texans can be confident that our federal courts treat everyone fairly and equally.”

Of the 46 active district court judges in Texas, only two are African American, 14 are Hispanic and 14 are female.

But lack of diversity is not the only problem with Texas’s district courts. Hoyt’s retirement means there are now six district court vacancies that need to be filled. The federal courts hear cases on many issues, including Social Security benefits, immigration, employment issues and civil liberties. Every day a vacancy goes unfilled, justice is denied.

"With six open seats, we have an opportunity to make our federal courts more diverse, while also ending our state’s vacancy crisis,” said Glazer. “Judge Hoyt's retirement should be a wake-up call to Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn – whose job it is to suggest names of nominees to the president. We knew this retirement was coming for almost a year – yet the senators haven failed to submit even a single name for consideration.”

"It is time for Cornyn and Cruz to act,” added Glazer. “It is time for Texans to demand our courts get the attention they deserve. And, most importantly, it is time to ask Cornyn and Cruz to make sure our judges look and represent the amazing diversity of Texas.”

How Senators John Cornyn & Ted Cruz Could Make a Difference

With Judge Hoyt’s retirement, there are 89 vacancies and additional 19 on the horizon.  Hoyt’s retirement means Texas’ federal district courts will have 6 judicial vacancies – including one that has been vacant since November 2008. Yet, there are currently no nominations to fill those seats, an obligation that rests with Texas’ U.S. Senators – each of whom now sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee that oversees the judicial nomination process.

Since 1986, Texas U.S. senators have used a federal judicial evaluation committee to vet applicants for vacancies on the state's federal courts. The committee reviews applicants' resumes, conducts interviews, and forwards the names of highly qualified candidates to the senators, who then recommend a candidate to the president. Over the years, the size of the committee has ranged from 28 to 40 members who are appointed by the senators, with members responsible for vacancies in the federal district in which they reside. The committee currently consists of 31 members and includes several Democrats.

Texas’ judicial nomination process is currently run and supervised by Sen. Cornyn, who also serves as the Republican Whip, and Sen. Ted Cruz. Both members also sit on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, which reviews all judicial appointments.

“Texas is well-positioned to fill its judicial nominations with qualified nominees that represent the diversity of Texas,” said Glazer, adding, “But it’s up to Senators Cornyn and Cruz to act.”