Women in the Federal Judiciary: Still a Long Way to Go

by Angela N. Johnson

According to the National Women’s Law Center, though the proportion of female law students is increasing, “the number of women in the federal judiciary has stagnated” (National Women’s Law Center 2011).  This is concerning because when women are “fairly represented on our federal courts, those courts are more reflective of the diverse population of this nation” Id. (Note, that this article is aimed at the federal court, but it is as equally important that women are represented in state courts, too!) Studies have shown that women judges “can bring an understandig of the imipact of the law on the lives of women and girls to the bench, and enrich courts’ understanding of how best to realize the intended purpose and effect of the law that he courts are charged with applying.  For example, one recent study demonstrtaed that male federal appellate court judges are less likely to rule against plaintiffs bringing claims of sex discrimination, if a female judge is on the bench” Id., citing Christina L. Boyd, Lee Epstein, and Andrew D. Martin’s Untangling the Causal Effect sof Sex on Judgeing, 54 AM. J. Pol. Sci. 389 (2010), available at http://epstein.law.northwestern.edu/research/genderjudging.pdf.  Also see Jennifer Peresie’s Female Judges Matter, which studies Title VII sex discrimination cases on three-judge appellate panels.

Current Statistics on the Federal Judiciary:

  1. Though the current makeup of the United States Supreme Court contains the highest proportion of women in history (3 of the 9 justices are women), only four of the 112 justices ever to serve on the highest court in the land have been women.
  2. Forty-nine of the 162 (30.2%) active judges currently sitting on the thirteen federal courts of appeal are female. But when broken down by circuit, a disparity becomes clear:
    1. The 8th Circuit has only one female judge among its eleven members, who is the only woman ever to have been appointed to that court.
    2. Women comprise just 10% of the judges serving on the 10th Circuit.
    3. Approximately 28% of the active United States district (or trial) court judges are women.
    4. The numbers are even smaller for women of color; there are 58 women of color serving as active federal judges across the country: 32 African American women, 20 Hispanic women, and six Asian-American women.  There are no Native American women among the over 750 active federal judges across the country.  There are just 9 women of color on the U.S. courts of Appeals – four of whom sit on the 9th Circuit, two on the DC Circuit, and one on each of the 1st, 4th, and 7th Circuits.  This means there are eight federal courts of appeals without a single active minority woman judge.
    5. Of President Obama’s 117 judicial nominees to date (including his nominees to the Supreme Court), 53 are women. 49% of his confirmed nominees have been women.

Source Citation: National Women’s Law Center. “Women in the Federal Judiciary: Still a Long Way to Go.” http://www.nwlc.org. March 8, 2011. http://www.nwlc.org/resource/women-federal-judiciary-still-long-way-go1 (accessed March 21, 2011).

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