Women on the Federal Courts: An Update
By Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President, National Women's Law Center
Yesterday, the Senate confirmed six judicial nominees, four of whom were women: Nannette Jolivette Brown to the Eastern District of Louisiana, Nancy Torresen to the District of Maine, Marina Garcia Marmolejo to the Southern District of Texas, and Jennifer Guerin Zipps to the District of Arizona. Not only did the confirmation of these women bring the total number of women confirmed to the federal bench during the Obama Administration to 50 (47% of all confirmed nominees), but two of these nominees broke glass ceilings in their jurisdictions – Judge Brown will be the first African-American woman on the Eastern District of Louisiana, and Judge Torreson will be the first woman to sit on the district court of Maine.
These confirmations are cause for celebration. As others have noted, President Obama’s judicial nominees have been remarkable for the diversity that they would add to the federal bench on the grounds of gender, race and ethnicity, and sexual orientation. And many of President Obama’s nominees, once confirmed, have broken barriers on the courts on which they now sit, at all levels of the federal judiciary: for example, Justice Sonia Sotomayor is the first Latina to sit on the Supreme Court; Judge Susan Carney is the first woman to sit on the Second Circuit from Connecticut; Judge Jacqueline Nguyen became the first Vietnamese woman to sit on any federal court in the country when she was confirmed to the Central District of California, and she hopefully will become the first Asian-American woman confirmed to a federal court of appeals.
But in addition to firsts, it’s important to have seconds, and thirds, until the day when it’s accepted that when litigants walk into a courtroom, the judge may just as easily be a woman, as a man. When almost half of law students are women, it is more important than ever that women be fairly represented in the federal judiciary. Furthermore, the increased presence of women on the bench improves the quality of justice: women judges can enrich courts’ understanding of how best to realize the intended purpose and effect of the law that the courts are charged with applying. For example, one study demonstrated 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 panel. And studies outside the judicial context strongly suggest that women are able to have a greater impact when their representation in a group moves beyond one or two token individuals. Here as well, President Obama’s nominees have made a difference, with Justice Kagan bringing the number of women sitting on the Supreme Court to three for the first time in 221 years. In addition, the number of women on the First, Second, Fourth, Sixth, Eleventh and Federal Circuits, as well as on a number of district courts, have increased during this Administration.
When our federal courts are diverse, they are more reflective of the diverse population of this nation. When our courts are diverse, people around the country may have more confidence that the court understands the real-world implications of its rulings. We congratulate the women who were confirmed today, and look forward to congratulating many more.