Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton joins Wilmington protest calling for Delaware court diversity

Carney is under pressure to diversify the court after Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock tendered his retirement.

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Al Sharpton in Wilmington

Rev. Al Sharpton speaks in Wilmington. (Sarah Mueller/WHYY)

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A group called Citizens for Judicial Fairness, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton, activists and candidates for city and state offices, rallied in Wilmington on Tuesday afternoon, urging Gov. John Carney to appoint a Black judge to Delaware’s Chancery Court.

Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock tendered his retirement earlier this year and activists are pressuring Carney to diversify the court. Chancery is a high-profile court that mainly hears business disputes and decides cases without juries. Elon Musk appeared before the court in 2021 to defend himself against a Tesla shareholder lawsuit.

Carney’s pick to replace Glasscock has to be confirmed by the state Senate.

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Sharpton said Delaware’s own Joe Biden (who he called the “son of Delaware”) has made appointing a diverse array of judges to the federal courts a priority. As of 2023, 66% of the judges that President Biden has appointed were women, as well as people of color, according to the Pew Research Center. Sharpton said Carney is doing the opposite in the First State.

“Gov. Carney has an opportunity to diversify that court, he needs to do it or we need to keep the national spotlight on [the fact that] the son of Delaware is betrayed by the governor of Delaware, when it comes to diversity,” Sharpton said.

Wilmington activist Keandra McDole, whose brother was shot and killed by city police officers, said she was sued in the Chancery Court by Attorney General Kathy Jennings in 2021 after protesting outside a Department of Justice employee’s home.

Wilmington activist Keandra McDole
Wilmington activist Keandra McDole, whose brother was killed by city police officers, speaks at the rally. (Sarah Mueller/WHYY)

“I was at the Chancery Court and I was so nervous,” she said. “Why? Because not one judge in that building represented me or looked like me. That is a problem.”

Two of the three Democrats running for governor, Matt Meyer and Collin O’Mara, also spoke at the rally. New Castle County Executive Meyer highlighted the schism happening in Wilmington between low-income residents and those on the higher end of the income scale. O’Mara, CEO at National Wildlife Federation, emphasized that electing new Democratic leaders was the answer to making change.

Matt Meyer in Wilmington
New Castle County Executive and gubernatorial candidate Matt Meyer speaks about the haves and the have-note in city of Wilmington and how race plays a role. (Sarah Mueller/WHYY)

“We need better Democrats to represent the community to engage in the community,” O’Mara said. “We’re gonna stand up for the community and not allow the kind of pay-to-play culture that’s defined Delaware for far too long to persist.”

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Collin O'Mara in Wilmington
National Wildlife Federation CEO Collin O’Mara and candidate for governor speaks at the rally to diversify the Court of Chancery (Sarah Mueller/WHYY)

Carney declared his run for Wilmington mayor Monday morning and held a kickoff event that evening. He’s running against Velda Jones-Potter, the first American American Delawarean to serve in statewide office.

Velda Jones-Potter in Wilmington
Velda Jones-Potter is running for Wilmington mayor against current Gov. John Carney, who the group is calling on to pick a non-white nominee. (Sarah Mueller/WHYY)

Besides Jones-Potter, the Democratic candidates for governor who attended the rally, as well as the other Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, are all white.

Pastor Derrick Johnson, a local activist, said race was an issue in the governor’s and mayor’s race. He pointed to the Black support Carney received at his campaign launch and the city’s water bill collection policies, which he said means low-income Black residents are more likely to get their homes foreclosed on if they can’t pay their water bills.

Johnson also criticized the media for covering Carney’s mayoral rollout but not reporting on Jones-Potter’s announcement last December.

“We got to make sure that from the Chancery Court to the reporting, we play the game by one set of rules,” he said.

Citizens for Judicial Fairness was created as the result of a 2014 lawsuit about the company TransPerfect, which has become protracted, corporate litigation. The nonprofit was founded by some TransPerfect employees.

In 2021, the state’s courts launched an initiative to improve judicial diversity, led by Delaware’s first Black Supreme Court Justice, Tamika R. Montgomery-Reeves, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz, Jr.

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