Topic for Assignment: Representation of women in judicial positions and the impact of their presence in the Judicial system historically
Secondary Source: Palmer, Barbara. 2002. “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Supreme Court’s Reaction to Its Second Female Member.” Women & Politics 24, no. 1: 1. America: History and Life with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed November 19, 2016).
In 1980, only 2% of the 26,650 state trial and appellate court judges in the United States were women. Additionally, it wasn’t until 1982 that Michigan and Minnesota added a second woman to their state supreme courts. However, the Clinton administration doubled the number of women in judicial positions and by 2000, 15% of federal judges and 25% of state supreme court justices were female. Given that women have been officially involved within the judiciary since 1869 (when Arabella Mansfield became the first female lawyer in the United States), the “integration of women into the American judiciary has been achingly slow” (supporting Bremer’s stance that gender does matter in the judiciary appointment process). Even more so, the appointing of multiple women to judicial organizations has been even slower. Studies have shown that in all-male supreme courts, women have a strong chance to fill vacancies; however, once a woman fills a vacancy, the chances for another woman to be selected “substantially drops”. In regards to this, studies have also found that as the number of women increased in committee hearings (for example) : “Men spoke more, interrupted more, and were more likely to challenge female witnesses”. Essentially, as women lose their status as tokens, there is often resistance to more women being appointed to judicial positions (this can be exemplified with the differing reactions to Arabella Mansfield’s admittance to the bar and Lavinia Goodell’s; or the fact that another woman wasn’t appointed to the Ohio state Supreme Court until after Florence Allen had passed away) due to the traditionally patriarchal nature of the institution. To better understand the complexities and consequences related to the admittance of multiple women to specific courts or the judiciary in general (along with why only until recently there was never more than one woman at a time serving in judiciary), Palmer examines the addition of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the United States Supreme court following the appointment of Sandra Day O’Connor 12 years prior.
When Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female Justice on the United States Supreme Court in 1981, her presence in the court increased support for women’s claims from 63% to 75%–creating a “noticeable shift” in the previously all-male court. However, Palmer has found that when a second female justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was added to the court in 1993, her presence cultivated more complex reactions than her predecessor did in regard to court support for women’s rights cases. Suggesting that when tokenism fades away, women in the judiciary are viewed much differently by their male peers. When considering the impact of multiple women within the judiciary and specific courts, Palmer’s studies have found that “as the number of women has increased, their potential ability to shape legal policy has also increased”–something especially true when considering issues involving women’s rights. This is evidenced by the fact that while Ginsburg and O’Connor became the “spokespeople” for the court in regard to women’s rights cases, they also ended up writing the majority opinion for women’s rights cases more so than was anticipated according to the “equality principle” the Supreme Court is governed by. Interestingly, when Ginsburg was added to the court, six of the male justices who were appointed before O’Connor and before Ginsburg experienced an increased percentage their support of women’s rights issues (on top of the increase they had experienced when O’Connor was appointed) as well. Additionally, O’Connor herself also experienced an increase in her support of women’s rights cases (perhaps due to a sense of empowerment that came from having another woman in the court). However, while the overall impact of Ginsburg’s appointment and presence in the court was positive, two justices who were appointed after O’Connor experienced a drastic decrease in their support for women’s rights cases.
Why did the two of the justices who were appointed after O’Connor (and therefore had always served with a woman), experience a decrease in their support of women’s claims cases? One possibility could be that women in the judiciary were never token figures to them and as another woman was added to the judiciary, they didn’t feel as pressured to vote in favor of female issues or that female justices were not as much of a novelty to them as they were to their predecessors–causing them to see their female counterparts as competitors more so than the older justices. Also, important to note when analyzing this, is that these two judges aligned with conservative policies–which could have contributed to their negative reactions to Ginsburg since conservatives generally tend to support traditional gender roles and patriarchal behaviors (as seen in the case of Lavinia Goodell) more so than those who identify as liberals (however various other conservative judges reacted positively to Ginsburg, suggesting this is more than an ideological issue).
Following Ginsburg’s appointment, not only did individuals within the Supreme Court experience increased support of women’s rights cases, but the court itself was revitalized in regards to it’s interest in women’s rights cases as well. During the five terms before Ginsburg was appointed, the court decided three sex-discrimination cases; after her appointment though, the court decided eight sex-discrimination cases. The impact of having multiple women within the Supreme Court has been positively and significantly consequential when considering in regards to women’s rights cases. Additionally, the negative reactions of two of the Justices following the inclusion of an additional woman in the court proves that while having a singular woman on the court is generally supported by male judicial figures, having multiple women on the court can result in “much more tentative” behaviors.
The examination of what happened within the United States Supreme Court following Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s appointment offers answers as to how women impact the courts, why women who applied to judicial positions in the past were treated as they were, and how the inclusion of women in the courts earlier in history could have changed the outcome of many women’s rights cases (such as the handling of rape in Colonial New York). In order for women’s issues to be addressed justly within the court, the presence of women is necessary. Even more so, the presence of multiple women in the court further increases the chances of women’s rights cases to be addressed and supported. While the appointing of Sandra Day O’Connor to the court was a significant moment in judicial history and had significant impact upon the judicial system; it could be argued that the appointing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was just as significantbecause it helped begin the elimination the token status of women in the United States Supreme Court and strengthened gender equality within the court system in general.