In the Spotlight   


Honorable Joseph A. Greenaway (March 2022)

The Honorable Joseph A. Greenaway Highlights the Importance of Diversity in Supreme Court Nominations

Seton Hall Law (logo box)

Published 2022-03-22


This 2022 Diversity Speaks Distinguished Speaker Series featured the Honorable Joseph A. Greenaway, Judge Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Each year, the series highlights a leader who prioritizes the principles of equity and inclusion in their work. It was established to promote the Law School’s effort to form a diverse and inclusive academic environment.

Judge Greenaway is certainly worthy of the honor. His four-decade career has seen him thrive in many roles, including law clerk, prosecutor, private lawyer, professor, in-house counsel, and, of course, judge. Among his many accolades were the New Jersey Corporate Counsel Association’s Distinguished Service Award, the Columbia University Medal of Excellence, the Garden State Bar Association’s Distinguished Jurist Award, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund Award of Excellence, and the William J. Brennan, Jr. Award. His academic work includes articles on issues of racial justice, such as Diversity in the Law, 43 Litig. 6 (2017); The Promise of America, 37 Cardozo L. Rev. 1167 (2016); Have We Crossed the Bridge Yet?, 1 Colum. J. Race & L. 163 (2011); and Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equal Justice, 29 Litig. 6 (2003).

The judge used this year’s Diversity Speaks event to discuss the importance of diversity in Supreme Court appointments. In particular, Judge Greenaway analyzed the public response to the nomination of the Honorable Ketanji Brown Jackson a federal judge of the District of Columbia Circuit, for the position of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Judge Greenaway had observed that a number of commentators had objected to the nomination, calling into question her qualifications for the position after President Biden promised during his campaign to nominate a black woman to the Court. Judge Greenaway carefully explained the flawed assumptions inherent in this critique.

The notion that affirmative action implies a diminution of quality is simply wrong. … The question in the minds of decision-makers is still, “I’ll tolerate a woman, I’ll tolerate a person of color, but they’ve got to be qualified,” intrinsically implying skepticism regarding qualifications. If Biden had nominated a white male with a similar background as Judge Jackson, as is true frankly of the entire court, no one would be asking here whether their whiteness and their maleness might be a dispositive factor towards whether they were qualified for the job.

Judge Greenaway reframed the question about the nomination as follows, “‘Will her incredible knowledge, experience and intellect make the court a better institution, and will she help the court to serve this country better, and will her individual perspective diversify the views of the court, both in conference and in the work of the court?’” The judge explained how her extraordinary work as a student, lawyer, and jurist made the answer an obvious “yes.”

He further described how racial bias animates the comparatively worse treatment that Judge Jackson has received by some members of the media. In that vein, he noted other times presidents had voiced an intent to diversify the Court--such as the nomination of the first female Justice Sandra Day O’Connor—that did not give rise to such comments.

So impactful was Judge Greenaway’s speech that both Above the Law and Law.com published articles summarizing it.