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Women in the Judiciary

2013 In Review: Judicial Nominations

As we prepare to begin a new year, it’s a fitting time to reflect on what 2013 meant for our federal courts. The Senate’s final votes of 2013 included several confirmations of judicial nominees who were not only highly qualified  but also brought  an unprecedented level of diversity to the federal bench. For example, over the last year alone President Obama has: Read more »

More Good News on Judges: Three Women Confirmed As First Women in Their Districts

Following the confirmations of Patricia Millett and Nina Pillard as the sixth and seventh women to sit on the D.C. Circuit this week, yesterday the Senate confirmed three women who will become the first female judges in their respective district courts: Elizabeth Wolford (Western District of New York); Landya McCafferty (District of New Hampshire); and Susan Watters (District of Montana). Read more »

Senate Confirms Nina Pillard Early This Morning

On the heels of the confirmation of Patricia Millett on Tuesday, the Senate confirmed law professor Cornelia (Nina) Pillard to the second vacant seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit early this morning.  Read more »

Confirmation Vote on Nomination of Patricia Millett to DC Circuit Today

Today, the Senate will vote on the nomination of Patricia Millett to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She is the first of the three exceptionally qualified individuals nominated to this important court back in June to receive an up-or-down vote before the full Senate. Read more »

Senate Cloture Vote on Nina Pillard Today

Today, the Senate is scheduled to decide whether Nina Pillard, the second of three outstanding nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals to the District of Columbia Circuit pending in the Senate, should get a confirmation vote. Nina Pillard is unquestionably qualified for the federal bench: she is a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center with significant litigation experience, including having written the winning briefs that persuaded the Supreme Court to open the Virginia Military Institute to women in 1997 and convincing the Court to extend the full protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to state workers in 2003. As her colleague Viet Dinh — who argued the 2003 FMLA case on the same side, on behalf of the Bush Administration — wrote [PDF], Professor Pillard is "exceptionally bright, a patient and unbiased listener, and a lawyer of great judgment and unquestioned integrity." 

But this vote follows on the heels of the filibuster of the first of the three pending D.C. Circuit nominees, Patricia Millett — and seven months after the filibuster of another highly qualified woman nominated to the same court, Caitlin Halligan, who has since withdrawn her nomination. It is shameful that a minority of the Senate would refuse to even hold a confirmation vote on three tremendously qualified female nominees, to a court on which only five women have served in the past 120 years. And it's even more shameful that the pretext for doing so is the specious assertion that the D.C. Circuit — with its docket of complex administrative appeals and nationally important cases — really does not need to fill the three current vacancies. As those wiser than I have written before, this argument doesn't pass the laugh test.  Read more »

Cloture Filed On Nina Pillard

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture on Georgetown Law Professor Nina Pillard, one of three pending nominees to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Professor Pillard is an exceptionally well-qualified nominee. She has litigated numerous cases before the Supreme Court, including the landmark case that opened the Virginia Military Institute to female students and the case extending the protections of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to state employees. Professor Pillard is a widely-respected constitutional scholar who has the enthusiastic support of her peers and colleagues, including Viet Dinh, a former Bush Administration official. She serves on Georgetown’s Supreme Court Institute, which prepares litigators scheduled to argue before the highest tribunal in the country. She received the ABA’s highest rating, unanimously “well qualified," reflecting her stellar qualifications. Read more »

Celebrating Milestones in Women on the Judiciary; But There Is Always More to Be Done

The President should be applauded for the giant leap forward he has made in placing women in federal judgeships. Indeed, the President nominated and seen confirmed a higher percentage of female nominees than any other president in U.S. history, according to a new report from Alliance for Justice.

The Report contains numerous causes for celebration:

  • Forty-two percent (42%) of President Obama’s confirmed judges have been women—almost double the rate of President George W. Bush (22%) and almost fifty percent greater than that of President Clinton (29%).
  • President Obama already has nominated and seen confirmed more minority women judges (33) than President George W. Bush (22) or President Clinton (23), and has quintupled the number of Asian Pacific American women judges (from 2 to 10).
  • Nine district courts now have their first female judges: the District of Wyoming; the District of Alaska; the Eastern District of California; the Eastern District of Washington; the Middle District of North Carolina; the District of Vermont; the Southern District of Iowa; the District of Maine; and the Middle District of Louisiana.

Nevertheless, as the NWLC has chronicled, much work remains to be done. Read more »

In Case You Missed It: U.S. Courts Reflect on History of Women on the Federal Bench for Women’s History Month

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 »

Second Chances

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 »

Taking Stock of Diversity in the Federal Judiciary; Significant Progress Has Been Made, But Much Remains to Be Done

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.