Judicial Branch

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Against All Odds...


Despite opinions like the one above, women lawyers have worked to open the law profession in the United States for centuries. The earliest American female lawyers drew upon the sentiments expressed in the Seneca falls declaration, chastising men for monopolizing “nearly all the profitable employments.”

The push to accept women in the legal field was essentially one of individual effort and perseverance. Today, it is not so different.

Women are vastly underrepresented in judicial appointments, despite making up a large swath of high-power lawyers in our country. This is due to various systemic roadblocks, ranging from inadequate recruitment into the legal profession for young women, to the pervasive gender bias held by many in the court’s practice when appointing or electing a woman judge.


The Judiciary: By the Numbers




Out of the 115  justices that have served on the  Supreme Court, there have only been five women

- three of whom are currently on the bench.

Just sixty-five of the 175 active judges currently sitting on the federal circuit courts are female.

Women hold 37 percent of state supreme court seats. 

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Court Diversity

Women of color are less represented than any other demographic group.    

In 22 states, no justices publicly identify as a person of color, includ­ing in 11 states where people of color make up at least 20 percent of the popu­la­tion.    

Across all state high courts, just 17 percent of justices are Black, Latino, Asian Amer­ican, or Native Amer­ican.

By contrast, people of color make up almost 40 percent of the U.S. popu­la­tion.    




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Is Representation Improving?

As of January 2022, President Biden has 42 confirmed federal judges with 78.6% of them being women. His predecessors confirmed women 42% (Obama) and 24% (Trump) of the time. 

In April 2022, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was the first African-American woman confirmed to the Federal Supreme Court. Previously, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the first and only woman of color to sit on the Supreme Court of the US.

Sources:  Center for American ProgressAmerican Constitution Society, National Association of Women Judges, The Gavel GapEnjurisU.S. Supreme CourtCenter for American Progress

The U.S. Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court is the highest level of the judiciary branch. Out of 115 justices that have served on the court, only five have been women. Three are currently serving: Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Amy Coney Barrett.

Did you know? There is a long history of women being considered for the Supreme Court. Shortlisted: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court (2020) outlines the history of nine women who were considered, dating back to the 1930s. 



Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

In 1981, President Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor to replace Potter Stewart as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Although her nomination was originally opposed by pro-life and religious groups, who worried she should not rule in favor of overturning Roe vs. Wade (1973), she was eventually confirmed by a 99-0 vote in the Senate. While she was a conservative jurist, siding with the conservative justices in the majority of cases before her, many of her decisions were praised for being both narrow and moderate. She retired in 2006.



Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

President Bill Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the Supreme Court in 1993, and she was then confirmed by the U.S. Senate in a 96-3 vote. Before joining the court, Ginsburg worked as a professor, as an attorney (arguing in front of the Supreme Court multiple times on mostly gender-related cases), and as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In her 27 years on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg established herself as a champion of women's rights and gender equality. Although thought of as a moderate when confirmed, Justice Ginsburg consistently voted with the liberal bloc of the court. She served until her passing in 2020.



Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor

The U.S. Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court Justice in 2009 to replace retiring Justice David Souter. Previously, Sotomayor served as a district court judge in New York and on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She was born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican parents. She was the third woman and first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court. Justice Sotomayor has made waves by standing up for civil rights and rights of defendants, including a scathing dissent in Utah v. Edward Joseph Strieff, Jr. in 2016.



Associate Justice Elena Kagan

Elena Kagan was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice in 2010, replacing John Paul Stevens. Before her confirmation, Kagan served as the first female U.S. Solicitor General. Kagan also served as the dean of her alma mater, Harvard Law School, from 2003 to 2009. In 1995, President Clinton asked Kagan to work at the White House as associate counsel, which led to her appointment as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and then Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council. She is the only current Supreme Court justice with no prior judicial experience.

Amy Coney Barrett official portrait.jpg

Associate Justice Amy Coney Barrett

Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice in 2020, replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Before her confirmation, Barrett served as a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit from 2017-2020. During her tenure, she ruled consistently in favor of conservative policies, which included rulings against abortion. Barrett also taught law at her alma mater, Notre Dame Law School, from 2002 to 2017

Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson

On April 7, 2022, Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed as the first African-American woman to serve on the Supreme Court, replacing Justice Stephen Breyer. Before her confirmation, Judge Jackson served as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. District Court. As a judge, Jackson has been known for her detailed and methodical work. Judge Jackson is also the first former public defender to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.



U.S. Supreme Court

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U.S. Supreme Court

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