Judge Demands the Governor Not Create All-White Bench
Retiring Judge John Allen asks the governor to consider the "face of justice" as he makes appointments
The sole African-American judge on the Chattahoochee Circuit's Superior Court for the past 21 years has asked Governor Nathan Deal to consider color—the "face of justice"—in filling two seats on the seven-member bench. Judge John Allen, who will retire as the court's chief judge on Oct. 31, wrote in a memo sent to the governor and his Judicial Nominating Commission that an all-white and male judiciary in the Columbus area circuit would be "egregiously unrepresentative of the population served."
In addition to Allen's seat, the governor will appoint someone to a new seat created by the Legislature. The JNC is accepting applications through Sept. 16. Of six nominations the JNC had received as of Sept. 5, at least one was African American—Alonzo Whitaker, chief assistant district attorney in the Chattahoochee Circuit.
Allen, 70, who stepped down earlier this year as chair of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, wrote in the Sept. 5 memo that if the governor follows the pattern of two recent appointments in his six-county circuit, it would create "an all-white male superior court bench". That "would be egregiously unrepresentative of the population served," Allen wrote.
The memo chided the governor for his past appointments, saying, "I am certain you are aware of the 'face of justice' created by your appointments to the bench."
In 2011, Deal appointed a white man, Art Smith, to the Chattahoochee Circuit to replace Douglas Pullen, who stepped down to end an ethics investigation by the JQC. In 2010, Governor Sonny Perdue appointed William Rumer, a white Columbus lawyer, to replace Robert Johnston after Johnston stepped down to end a JQC investigation.
Allen's concerns mirror those of a coalition of leaders from metro Atlanta's African-American legal community who last year publicly challenged what they said was a decade-long failure by the state's political leadership to appoint African-Americans to judgeships. The result, they said, has been a decline in the number of African-Americans holding state judicial posts.
A spokesman for Deal told the Daily Report last year that the governor "takes into consideration the importance of diversity" in political appointments, while noting that the governor's "first priority is selecting first-rate jurists."
A Deal spokeswoman said Tuesday: "The governor interviews a short list of thoroughly vetted individuals provided by the JNC. The commission members are distinguished members of the legal profession from throughout the state, and they recommend the candidates they deem most qualified to serve the people in their jurisdiction. Diversity is one of many important considerations in these decisions. Gov. Deal has not and does not discriminate during his decision process. He chooses the best person for the job regardless of their gender or race."
JNC co-chair Randy Evans said, "Diversity plays a role in the decision-making process. We work very hard in that regard. The tough part is that ... in many situations we don't have any minority applicants, any Asian-American applicants, any African-American applicants. It's hard to pick one when nobody applied or the ones who applied didn't meet the statutory requirements for the position. We are very mindful of it. We are sensitive to it. We are diligent about it. But at the end of the day, all of it depends on the applicant pool.".
Allen included in his memo data from the 2010 Census showing that in Muscogee County, the circuit's largest county and home of Columbus, the population is divided nearly evenly between African-Americans and whites. In the six counties that comprise the circuit, there are 134,156 whites compared to 104,546 African Americans, according to Allen's memo.