Although we have turned the calendar page, here’s one last piece from the U.S. Courts website about women in the federal judiciary in honor of Women’s History Month. The article offers a nice bit of historical perspective with information about the first female federal judges, and an infographic that demonstrates the huge – and ongoing -- gap between the number of women law students and the number of women on the bench. Read more »
We don’t always get a second chance to make things right. But tomorrow, obstructionists in the U.S. Senate do. In December 2011, every Republican Senator, save one (Senator Lisa Murkowski) filibustered the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the important Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Tomorrow, the Senate will get a second chance to allow this outstanding nominee to receive an up-or-down vote.
The delays in her confirmation have only caused more problems for this court, and the public at large, during the thirteen months since the first vote to move to consider Caitlin Halligan’s nomination failed. Instead of three open seats on the D.C. Circuit, as there were in 2011, there are now four – making the D.C. Circuit the appellate court with the highest number of vacancies in the country. Now seven judges must do the work meant for a full eleven-judge court. With each vacancy, each judge’s caseload of complex, nationally important cases has grown. What else has changed? Well, since President Obama won a second term, the virtual total shutdown of the confirmation process has ended. So now is clearly the time to move the Halligan nomination forward, to a consideration of her excellent record – and a confirmation vote. Read more »
As we approach the end of President Obama’s first term in office, it’s an appropriate time to look back and take stock of the impact the President has had on the federal bench, to date. Although, thanks to a determined minority in the Senate, there is a record number of judicial seats that remain empty, the most recent additions to the federal bench are remarkable not only for their excellence and qualifications, but also for how they are changing the face of the judiciary.
President Obama’s Administration has nominated more women and people of color for judgeships than any previous Administration in history. Overall, of the President’s confirmations, approximately 43% have been women, more than twice the rate under the previous Administration. In fact, more women have been confirmed to the federal bench in President Obama’s first term than during President George W. Bush’s entire presidency. As a result, even with the vacancies, the percentage of active women judges on the federal bench has increased from slightly above 25% to over 30% since 2009.
The Administration also broke gender barriers by confirming six women as the first woman judges ever to serve on their district court, and five more as the first woman circuit judge in their state. And it must be noted, of course, that for the first time in history, three women serve on the Supreme Court at one time. President Obama’s nomination of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan created that exciting breakthrough.
A recent article pointed out that the Oakland federal courthouse, in the Northern District of California, is home to six federal judges – three lifetime appointees and three magistrates – all of whom are women. Moreover, five of those six judges are women of color. This appears to be the first time a courthouse of this size has had an all-women bench, and stands in stark contrast to the overall representation of women in the federal district courts, which hovers around 30%.
Jeremy Fogel, the director of the Federal Judicial Center (on leave from the Northern District of California himself) noted that "It's not just the courthouse and the majesty of the building, the dignity of the courtroom, that matters … but are people in various positions in the judiciary someone they can identify with? From the standpoint of appearances, [an all-women court is] a good thing." Read more »
On Monday, the Senate confirmed Stephanie Rose, nominated to a district court seat in Iowa. As the Huffington Post noted, with Judge Rose’s confirmation, as many female federal judges have been confirmed in the Obama Administration as were confirmed in President George Bush’s 8 years in office. As a result, the percentage of female federal judges has increased between 2008 (PDF) and 2012.
Obama nominees have been more diverse not only in terms of gender, but also race, ethnicity and other important kinds of diversity, than nominees in any prior presidential administration. As Marcia Greenberger stated in the article, “At this time, it's beyond dispute that having a diverse set of judges improves the quality of justice for everybody.” But there is clearly more progress to be made. Read more »
Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Mary Geiger Lewis to a seat on the District Court of South Carolina by a vote of 64-27. Upon her confirmation, Judge Lewis becomes the third female judge (of ten judges total) on this court, and the 63rd woman confirmed to a district court seat during the Obama Administration. Her confirmation is good news, coming on the heels of a CRS report that concluded both that the number of district court vacancies has increased rather than decreased since the beginning of President Obama's administration, and that "fewer Obama district court nominees have been confirmed by the Senate than were confirmed during the first terms of the four preceding Presidents." Read more »
As the Senate is poised to start the first of 17 cloture votes on district court judges, and in the midst of Women’s History Month, we over at NWLC took a mental step back to look at the big picture of women in the federal judiciary. Yes, women make up 50% of the population and, for twenty-five years, nearly 50% of law students. But only 30% of federal judges, even today, are women.
And yes, over the past several years, the number of women on the federal bench has largely stagnated. We clearly have a long way to go before women, especially women of color, are adequately represented on our federal courts. But we should still celebrate when progress is being made.
The White House yesterday released an infographic on President Obama’s judicial nominees. 47% of President Obama’s confirmed judicial nominees have been women, and about 19% have been women of color. In addition, President Obama’s nominees have broken a number of long-overdue gender barriers. For example, there are three women on the Supreme Court for the first time in history (with the nomination of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic Justice and the first Justice with a disability, and Justice Elena Kagan). Five of his district court nominees became the first woman to serve in their district. And one of his pending nominees, Judge Jacqueline Nguyen, would be the first Asian American woman to serve on a federal appellate court. (The infographic has information about other nominees who have added other long-overdue kinds of diversity to the federal courts as well). Read more »
As you might have gathered by now, we at NWLC care deeply about increasing women’s representation in the judiciary. So we wanted to make sure that women lawyers in Maryland know about an event that will educate them about the judicial selection process.
The National Association of Women Judges and the Maryland lawyer chapter of ACS are offering a training todayin Baltimore. Details are below. To register, email District 4 NAWJ Director Claudia Barber at email@example.com and/or call (202) 724-5474.
The Maryland Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society and the National Association of Women Judges present: