Archive for ‘Women as Judicial Clerks’

March 30, 2013

A Conversation with the Women Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court

by Angela N. Johnson

I recently stumbled across a video of an insightful discussion among all four women who have served/are serving on the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan reminisce about the time they first heard the news of Justice O’Connor’s appointment and they each share stories and thoughts about their careers. It is entertaining and well worth your time.



The video can be viewed by clicking the photo above or this link: Conversation with Women U.S. Supreme Court Justices

April 23, 2011

Women Clerks at the U.S. Supreme Court

by Angela N. Johnson

Cynthia Cooper explores the gendered makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court clerks and the fact that women clerks seem to be stuck at the “1/3 mark,” having never comprised more than 1/3 of all U.S. Supreme Court Clerks.  The reason this is important, is that a U.S. Supreme Court clerkship is seen as a prestigious springboard into some of the most elite positions; when women are excluded, they inevitibly comprise a smaller portion of the eligibility pool for the most elite jobs (Cooper 2008).

These clerks are largely the crème de le crème of all clerks. According to Cooper, these clerks tend to have many things in common including, law degrees from elite schools where they graduated in the top of their classes, served as editors for their law reviews, performed research for key professors, and are alums of prestigious federal appellate court clerkships (many of the federal courts are seen as “feeder” courts to SCOTUS clerkships). Many of these informal eligibility requirements may factor into the fact the SCOTUS clerks are predominantly male. In examining the last 14 terms Cooper found that only 19 to 40 percent of the Supreme Court Clerks have been women. Given what we know about informal requirements, Cooper questions, “Is there a clog in the pipeline?” Cooper notes that it may be difficult to determine whether substantial discrimination in hiring exists because applicant data for these clerkships is held in close secret.  However in looking at the disparity within the types (prestige) of clerkships, Cooper examined the Judiciary Fair Employment Practices report of 2007 which included (for the first time) a gender breakdown for clerks in the federal bankruptcy, district, and appellate courts. This report showed that women comprise a majority (64.7%) of clerks to the less prestigious bankruptcy court clerkships; 59.89% for the district court clerkships, but just 42.4% of clerks for the federal court of appeals – the appellate clerkships are the most highly regarded and viewed as “feeder” courts to Supreme Court clerkships.  According to Cooper, this necessarily narrows the pool from which the Supreme Court draws.

In further examining the eligibility pool, Cooper notes a study conducted by David H. Kaye and Joseph Gastwirth.  When studying whether women are equally represented in the top positions on the flagship law journals, they found they comprised only one-third of the officers at Yale (35%) and University of Chicago (36%). Then when mapping people from feeder schools to feeder judges, they found that women comprised just 32% of those included in the eligibility pool.[1]

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April 22, 2011

Where are all the women SCOTUS litigants?

by Angela N. Johnson

At the time Tammy Sarver, Erin Kaheny, and John Szmer wrote The Attorney Gender Gap in U.S. Supreme Court Litigation, women occupied less than a quarter of the US. district court and courts of appeals seats, just one woman sat on the Supreme Court, and only 20 percent of law school deans were women (Sarver, Kaheny and Szmer 2008). Thankfully, the current statistics reflect some improvement, with women comprising roughly 1/3 of all judgeships (including 3/9 on the U.S. Supreme Court).  However, the number of women attorneys arguing in the United States Supreme Court continues to lag and the “leaky pipeline” seems to be at fault. While one may hastily conclude that the problem plagues only those women who have an interest in litigating in the highest court of the land, a closer look reveals that this disparity impacts all women (even nonlawyers, too!)  According to the authors, “Because the Supreme Court makes policies that affect the entire nation, and the attorneys that participate in litigation before the Court, in turn, influence the justices’ decisions, the makeup of the Supreme Court Bar is of paramount importance” Id. at 239.  To investigate the gender gap, the authors collected data on all attorneys participating before the Court over the 1993-2001 terms. Moreover, the authors explore some of the possible explanations for their findings.

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April 15, 2011

Difference in Judicial Discourse; Value in Exploring Role of Law Clerks

by Angela N. Johnson

Maveety’s article reviews the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings and the infamous “wise Latina” exchanges that prompted concern over the possibility that judges render decisions based on their gender or world view (Maveety 2010, 453).  Moreover, this article examines differing sentiments on whether women judges view cases differently.  For example, Justice O’Connor has often said “a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases” Id. at 453.  The problem, as noted by Maveety, is that there is no universal definition of “wise” and that by nature, a judges’ decision-making will necessarily be influenced by past experiences.  When Justice Sotomayor later recounted her “wise Latina” statement, she explained that “by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society” Id. at 454. Justice O’Connor also changed her previous “same conclusion” statement by admitting it is “helpful to the Court to have nine members of different backgrounds and experiences and, yes, even gender.  We bring different life experiences to the task, and that’s a good thing” Id. at 455-456.  Moreover, upon her retirement, Justice O’Connor expressed disappointed that her replacement was not a female, which left Justice Ginsburg the lone woman on the bench.  While Maveety does not address the Justice O’Connor’s apparent change of heart, I have to wonder about the context of these statements.  Perhaps the previous statement made by Justice O’Connor was made during the years when it was best to defend women’s inclusion on the bench by refuting any differences in the token-number appointments.  If this is so, then it would follow that in more recent years Justice O’Connor can now embrace the benefits that women bring to the bench without facing ridicule or setting-back women’s progress.

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