Over the past three decades, an increasing number of women have joined the legal profession. Since 1992, women’s representation in law school classes has approached 50%. Despite record numbers of female judicial nominees, the percentage of female federal judges, however, is far lower. It is of critical importance to increase the representation of women on the federal bench.
When women are fairly represented on our federal courts, those courts are more reflective of the diverse population of this nation. When women are fairly represented on the federal bench, women, and men, may have more confidence that the court understands the real-world implications of its rulings. For both, the increased presence of women on the bench improves the quality of justice: women judges can bring an understanding of the impact 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 the courts are charged with applying. For example, one recent 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.
But to obtain true gender diversity, the number of women in the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court, must be increased.
- Upon the confirmation of Associate Justice Elena Kagan, the Supreme Court counts three women among its nine Justices for the first time in history, still only one-third of the members of that Court. Only four of the 112 Justices ever to serve on the highest court in the land have been women.
- Sixty of the 172 active judges currently sitting on the thirteen federal courts of appeal are female (almost 35%). When broken down by circuit, women’s representation on several of these individual courts is even lower than on the courts of appeals overall:
- In particular, women are underrepresented on the Third Circuit (where they make up about 23% of judges) and the Eighth Circuit (18%).
- Thirty-two percent of active United States district (or trial) court judges are women.
- But there are still nine district courts around the country where there has never been a female judge. 
- For women of color, the numbers are even smaller.
- There are 77 women of color serving as active federal judges across the country, including 39 African-American women, 25 Hispanic women, 10 Asian-American women, one Native American woman, one woman of Hispanic and Asian descent, and one women of Hispanic and African-American descent.
- There are only 11 women of color on the U.S. courts of appeals. Five of those women sit on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, two sit on the DC Circuit, and one woman of color sits on each of the First, Fourth, Sixth and Seventh Circuits. Therefore, there are seven federal courts of appeals without a single active minority woman judge.
- If currently pending judicial nominees are confirmed, the number of women in the federal judiciary would increase.
- Of President Obama’s 320 judicial nominees to date (including his nominees to the Supreme Court), 134 have been women. Forty-eight of these nominees have been women of color (26 African-American women, 10 Hispanic women, eight Asian-American women, one Native American woman, one woman of Hispanic and Asian descent, and one woman of African-American and Hispanic descent).
- About 42 percent of President Obama’s confirmed nominees have been women. This has increased the number of women on the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, D.C., and Federal Circuits as well as on a number of district courts. Fourteen judges have been confirmed as the first woman judge in their district; seven more as the first woman circuit court judge in their state.
- The number of women of color on the federal bench has increased dramatically as well. The number of Asian-American women judges has tripled, and includes the first Asian-American circuit court judge. Eight states have their first African-American female ju