Women are Underrepresented in the Judiciary

By Evelien van Gelderen by on June 20, 2018

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Image source- Gavel Gap

While there has been much media coverage on gender disparity in the legislative branch, there is little attention being paid to the lack of representation of women and people of color in the judicial branch. Less than one-third of state judges are women, even while women make up more than one-half of the U.S. population. People of color make up about 40% of the population, but account for less than 20 percent of state judges. At the federal level, only 36 percent of United States trial court judges are women and only 10.5 percent of U.S. federal judges are women of color.

Why does this discrepancy matter? Diversity in the judiciary is necessary because, according to the National Women's Law Center, it improves the quality of justice. When judges are representative of the people, they are better able to make decisions that are well-informed, and the legitimacy of the court is strengthened. A 2016 study published in Political Research Quarterly found that female judges are 15 percent more likely than male judges to rule in favor of the plaintiff in sex discrimination cases. Black trial judges are 39 percent more likely to support race discrimination plaintiffs than white judges. Thus, the gender and race of judges has a significant impact on the outcome of trials.

The solution to this gaping problem starts with paying more attention to judicial elections. Women running for the bench deserve more attention and encouragement. Additionally, women typically are able to enter the legal profession but then are unable to rise to the top positions. Changing corporate culture, making working conditions more accommodating, and introducing mentoring programs could help women climb the legal ladder.

RepresentWomen continues to investigate the impact of electing or appointing people on representation. At the state level, judges are either appointed or elected in partisan or nonpartisan elections. At the federal level, judges are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Preliminary research seems to suggest that there is greater representation of women and people of color when candidates are appointed. One reason for this could be that voter turnout is low for judicial elections, and thus these elections can be heavily swayed by special interest groups.

Whether it's by appointment or at the ballot box, more women need to be part of the judiciary system. The unbalanced representation we are currently experiencing is undermining our democracy.

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