The Integration of Women into the American Judiciary

by Angela N. Johnson

Barbara Palmer provides a statistical overview of the integration of women into the American judiciary and a review of the literature in this area in “To Do Justly: The Integration of Women into the American Judiciary” (Palmer 2001, 235). Moreover, Palmer compiled data from 1971 to 1999 on five indicators in an effort to begin exploring the integration of women into several layers of the American judicial hierarchy. Palmer finds that one of the more prominent explanations for the slow integration of women into the judiciary is similar to other political institutions – the “pipeline” theory. Like many other elected positions, the informal requirements and typical career ladders for judgeshps are unavailable to women, leaving fewer women in the “eligibility pool” Id. at 235. According to Palmer, entry to the judicial hierarchy is more difficult than entry to the legislative hierarchy because while law school is one of many paths to legislative office, a law degree is a required prerequisite for judicial service. Moreover, despite the fact women’s proportionality in law schools is increasing, the proportion of women working as lawyers does not track with the number of women earning law degrees; this further shows that fewer women are among those eligible for judgeships. However, Palmer notes that while one part of the issue is eligibility, another issue stems from the lack of repeat “token” appointments. According to Palmer, one study found that “in states with all-male supreme courts, women had a strong chance of being selected to fill a vacancy, regardless of the selection method. Once a state had a woman on its Supreme Court, though, the chance that another woman would be selected substantially dropped, particularly in states that used an appointment method of selection” Id. at 238.

Palmer notes that the decision-making impact of women judges is clearest in sex discrimination cases and that “research on state supreme courts, the U.S. courts of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently shown that female judges tend to be the strongest supporters of women’s rights claims, regardless of their ideology” Id. at 237. Though evidence suggests that women do not bring an entirely different jurisprudence to the court, we know that it has been women attorneys and judges who have brought sex discrimination onto the legal and political agenda.

Source Citation: Palmer, Barbara. “To Do Justly: The Integration of Women into the American Judiciary.” Political Science and Politics 34, no. 2 (June 2001): 235-239.

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