Why Aren’t There More Women Judges?

Over the last thirty years, the number of female law school graduates has risen to nearly equal the number of male graduates. This near equilibrium, sadly, is not reflected in the number of women serving as judges at both the state and federal level.

Currently, women account for 48% of law school graduates and 45% of law firm associates. Nationwide, women account for only 22% of seats on the federal bench and 26% of state benches. Some states, however, do not have a single female judge (New Hampshire, Montana, and the Northern District of New York). The Northern District of New York is especially striking because there are 359 potential female candidates currently serving on the state bench.

A recent study concluded that the gap is not attributable to a lack of qualified female candidates, but rather, a lack of opportunity and access for female candidates.

One possible explanation for discrepancy is that judges of both sexes are generally older, having practiced law for a number of years in either private or public practice. Thirty years ago, women accounted for much less than 45% of law school applicants. As a result, in theory, there is a smaller pool of experienced female judges. This theoretically smaller pool, however, does not account for the entire gap.

Each state has different methods for appointing judges, but a majority use elections. Older individuals tend to vote more than younger individuals, which likely unfairly skews towards electing male judges. Older individuals are more likely to have outdated views on the gender, including what types of jobs certain genders should hold. 

There is little doubt this study reflects the sad reality that while law schools are turning out near equal numbers of men and women, that equality is not reflected in the number of men and women judges. 

Women in State and Federal Judgeships | Rockefeller College of Public Affairs


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