African American judicial appointees
President Obama continued with his commitment to African American communities by making a tremendous impact on appointments to the federal bench. In an effort to close the disparity gap, Obama made some 62 lifetime appointments of African Americans to the federal bench, including 9 African American circuit court judges and 53 African American district court judges. Among the 53 district court judges, 26 were African American women. President Barack Obama appointed more African American women to the district court than any other president in American history. In total, according to a White House Press Release (October 14, 2016; Owens, 2017), 19 percent of the President’s confirmed judges were African American. His predecessor, President Bill Clinton appointed 16 African American judges and President George W. Bush appointed only 7.
Five states now have their first African American circuit judge; ten states have their first African American female lifetime-appointed federal judge; and three districts have their first African American district judge. President Obama was also committed to including other members of the African Diasporic community. The President appointed the first Haitian American lifetime-appointed federal judge, the first Afro-Caribbean-born district judge, the first African American female circuit judge in the Sixth Circuit, and the first African American circuit judge on the First Circuit (who was also the first African American female life-time-appointed federal judge to serve anywhere in the First Circuit (Owens, 2017; Toobin, 2014).
President Barack Obama’s concerns included, among many others, providing economic and educational opportunities, improvement in health care coverage, Civil Rights initiatives, and making efforts to ensure that the criminal justice system is fair to all citizens. In spite of the advances made by the Obama administration, deep economic gaps exist between African Americans and white America. Many sources speculate that the recession caused severe damage to black families, such that it would take decades to regain the economic status that was lost, especially in the housing market. In Obama’s speech on “A more perfect union” he provides a brief synopsis of structural racism and how it has impeded the economic and social progress of African Americans: He states:
We do not need to recite her the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist between the African American communities and the larger American community today can be traced directly to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. ... Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools. We still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education.... And the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students. ... Legalized discrimination, where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire department meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. ... That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between blacks and whites and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persist in so many of today’s urban and rural communities. ... A lack of economic opportunity among black men and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family contributed to the erosion of black families, a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened.... But for those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it—those who were ultimately defeated, on one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations—those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope of prospects for the future. ... Even for those blacks who did not make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their world view in fundamental ways.
(Dionne & Reid, 2017. pp. 59-61)
Although President Obama may not have made the vast changes for African Americans that many may have expected, and society may not have leaped into being post-racial, his policies and his recognition of the problems in black communities are noteworthy in several ways. Much of his commitment to an understanding of the impact of legacy on African Americans is outlined in his eloquent speeches (Dionne & Reid, 2017). Although he was committed to fairness to black and brown communities, his ultimate goal was to secure justice for all and make this society a better place for present and future generations. However, in spite of his commitment to a democratic society, he was met with derision and lack of support in meeting his goal of making this “A more perfect society.” The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division continued to enforce federal law under the Obama administration. Over the course of Obama’s time in the White House, the Division has vigorously protected the civil rights of individuals in housing, lending, employment, voting, education, and disability rights.