Wednesday, February 14, 2018
It's that time of year again... New Law Deans time. I'll start tracking here the new women law deans appointed this cycle.
For last year's list and commentary on the trend to women law deans (sort of), see New Women Law School Deans 2017
Kerry Abrams (Vice Provost, Virginia), Duke Law
Theresa Beiner (Associate Dean for Faculty Development, Arkansas-Little Rock), Arkansas-Little Rock
Wendy Hensel (Associate Dean for Research, Georgia State), Georgia State
Carla Pratt (Associate Dean for Diversity, Penn State Law), Washburn
L. Song Richardson (Interim Dean, Associate Academic Dean, Irvine), UC Irvine
Thursday, February 1, 2018
From Associate Dean Usha Rodrigues about the upcoming Women's Leadership in Academia Conference at the University of Georgia, and includes a call for proposals:
We are happy to announce that Georgia Law will be hosting the first annual conference for Women's Leadership in Academia this summer on July 19-20. The conference will emphasize giving attendees concrete skills in areas such as negotiation, as well as building a professional network. Please visit the conference website for more details, and add your contact information in the “conference registration” section if you would like to be contacted as we finalize the details.
We are inviting you not only to attend our conference, but also to help shape it. The conference website contains a call for panel proposals, and we are eager to hear your ideas to further our mission of promoting women leaders.
Friday, January 19, 2018
A nonequity shareholder at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart claims in a $300 million lawsuit that the defense-side labor and employment firm discriminates against female partners in pay, promotions and opportunities.
The would-be federal class action was filed Jan. 12 by shareholder Dawn Knepper, according to a press release, the Recorder and Bloomberg Big Law Business. Knepper is represented by David Sanford of Sanford Heisler Sharp, the same firm that filed gender bias suits against Chadbourne & Parke, and the now-disbanded firm Sedgwick.
On its website, Ogletree Deakins purports to foster diversity and inclusion, “but this rhetoric is largely hollow,” the suit says. “In reality, the firm has shirked its obligations under the law through its ‘do as I say not as I do’ practices.”
The suit says the firm doesn’t give female shareholders the appropriate credit for business they generate and the work they do, doesn’t give women the same development and training opportunities provided to men, and doesn’t select women for business pitches as often as men.
Compensation decisions are controlled by the firm’s predominantly male compensation committee and are approved by a vote of equity shareholders, about 80 percent of whom are men, the suit says. Men also dominate at the nonequity shareholder level, making up 58 percent of the group, according to the suit, which relied on statistics that were current as of last Dec. 31. ***
The suit seeks $100 million for underpayment, $100 million in compensatory damages, and $100 million in punitive damages. The suit alleges pay discrimination, gender bias and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; violation of the federal Equal Pay Act; violation of California employment law; and unfair competition.
A separate suit seeks a declaratory judgment that Knepper is not bound by any arbitration agreement.
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
From Guest Blogger Catherine Dunham, Professor of Law, Elon University School of Law
Too Pretty: An Essay
The #MeToo moment is powerful and encouraging to those of us who have worked in uncomfortable environments for years. In my high school years, there were retail managers who made up reasons to brush behind you as you ran the cash register. Then, there were the college food service job years which included outright sexual propositions from same age colleagues and groping opportunities disguised as rides home (“let me reach across and get that door for you.”). Fast forward to my first professional environment with new shoes and proper clothes. I was asked to pick things up, to walk across the room, to sit with older male clients and keep them company as they waited for my boss. I knew it was creepy but I perceived myself as someone without power. Also, the men were much older and seemed harmless. To me, they were sad and unthreatening but, in retrospect, they probably saw themselves as first rate opportunities for a young gal like me. I spent eight post college years in subordinate professional roles and literally lost count of the times I was propositioned and of the men who made the overtures. At one particularly low point, a supervisor who positioned himself as my mentor, some 20 years my senior, made a full-scale play for me after months of uncomfortable flirting. The encounter ended with me saying, “please don’t do this – I need this job.” Thank goodness, he relented. I left that encounter thinking I need to get into a better professional position so as not be treated like the Gal Friday, possibly available for anything, for the rest of my career. So, I went to Law School. Certainly, after I became a lawyer, this would stop.
Law school was an oasis in my professional story. I had great male and female student colleagues and felt respected for my intellect and hard work. This calm faded as I entered the profession, particularly private practice where I was called upon for coffee runs in depositions when I was the only women in the room. I was mistaken for a paralegal, a court reporter, a clerk, with one time reprimanded by an out-of-county lawyer who demanded I remain behind the bar as the counsel tables were available only for licensed attorneys. I was called “honey,” “sweetie,” and “girl” by a person on every rung of the legal professional ladder. There were also appearance-based comments by judges and jurors and the occasional “you are just too pretty to be a lawyer.” For the record, I am not that pretty. I was simply female and young and offered an alternative version of what lawyers in my rural practice area were supposed to look like. But because I was a young woman, comments on my physical appearance were to be considered compliments.
I learned to manage this terrain. I refused coffee runs, openly chastised lawyers who called me “honey,” and responded to the “too pretty” comments with a good Southern comeback like, “thank you – you are much too old to be looking at women my age.” In fact, my small firm which was all male sans me remains the most gender balanced environment I have ever worked in. My male superiors were excellent trial lawyers who valued hard work and intelligence without a care about how you looked, who you slept with, and whether you had a life outside of the office. If you did well, you were celebrated. If you screwed up, you heard about it and received some direction to keep you from making the same mistake again. The firm environment was fair, which made up for the constant inequities of the rural southern courts where I practiced. Even so, those years were the time in my life when I was most often a woman among men and I got a glimpse of the ease the permeates a non-diverse world. The language was not modern but it was not all menacing. I had grown up with good people who used old-fashioned language to discuss women so learned not to be too quick to judge a gendered, albeit gracious, phrase.
I expected the switch to legal academia to expose me to the Holy Grail of gender equality. Law professors were progressive and would create and propagate fair and balanced environments. Wrong. Twenty years after that first brush up behind the cash register, I was still deciding how to deal with a creep. The only difference was the creep’s tactics. Law academia has included being told by a Dean that I should “just go home, take care of my kids, and let my husband pay the bills.” Another Dean promised to “take care of me” if I followed his lead on voting and retaliated when I did not. And I once had a student tell me he could not attend my class because it was against his personal beliefs for a man to learn from a woman. I have seen women colleagues painted as “shrill,” “passive,” “too aggressive,” “brash,” and just overall not good enough to play in the big leagues of real law teaching. I have sat in meetings trying to convince male colleagues that when viewing the teaching evaluations of women (and minority) faculty, particularly those who teach in predominantly male, white schools, you must account for the power differences, understanding that minority teachers do not get the benefit of the doubt. And I have watched male colleagues protect their territory against female interlopers by appointing themselves the junior female colleague’s unofficial mentor then using that access to offer an ostensibly credible assessment of the junior faculty member to the rest of the faculty. “I have really worked with her but she just isn’t getting there.” On this point, I have seen male colleagues praised for protecting the quality of instruction and women colleagues criticized for being territorial. Territorial men are protectors and providers. Territorial women are like my border collie when the repairman comes; a nasty bitch.
Why do we accept that women will deal with a certain amount of skirt chasing and “boys will be boys” behavior in the workplace? Because we view men as more and view women as less. Our cultural views come through in our language, public and private, whether we know it or not. For a woman of my age, raised in the culture of the American South, language was a complicated mix of the sweet and the cruel which offered few guiderails for my journey into professional adulthood. It took years for me to begin to challenge the words used to describe me and other women and the subtext beneath the conscious word choices of my peers. I must admit that when I was first told I was too pretty for something, it read as a compliment. It took time for me to understand that words which celebrated physical attractiveness when those traits are not relevant are words that diminish.
I have lovely memories of my Great Uncle holding my hand and telling me I looked like Snow White. However, a father, grandfather, or uncle could show the same affection with other words, words which do not connect physical appearance with value thus confounding those two things in a way that confuses young women on their personal value. In truth, members of my own family told me I was too pretty to be a lawyer, telegraphing the cultural assumption that attractive women can get husbands so don’t need careers. These messages sent me off into the world confused about my value and my role. When our cultural rhetoric focuses on the physical attributes of women, we devalue women and invite the aggressors. And we are all too pretty for that.
Catherine Dunham is a Professor of Law at Elon University School of Law where she teaches Civil Procedure, Civil Litigation, and Litigation Skills including Trial Practice. She has also served as a trial analyst for several major news outlets, including NBC and CNN. In addition to procedural topics, Prof. Dunham’s scholarship explores social psychology and legal education, as well as topics related to gender equity and unconscious bias. Prof. Dunham is also prior recipient of the ABA Smyth-Gambrell Award for Teaching Professionalism.
Saturday, December 30, 2017
On the day U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Wolford received a copy of a New York State Bar Association report revealing that women participate in court at lower rates than men, the judge had a meeting to discuss a pending breach-of-contract case.
In addition to a male partner, each side had a female associate who, Wolford says, had clearly done the relevant research. With the report in mind, Wolford of the Western District of New York recommended the associates argue at the hearing—and they did.
“It was one of the best arguments I have had the privilege of presiding over,” Wolford recalls.
According to the July report, female attorneys account for just 25 percent of counsels appearing in commercial and criminal New York state and federal cases. In more complex matters, the percentage declines further. A 2015 ABA report found similar numbers in a study of the Northern District of Illinois.
In August, Wolford implemented a standing rule that encouraged young attorney participation. Such rules, which often offer oral argument as incentive, are one way the NYSBA report recommends the bench help address litigation’s gender disparities.
Wolford’s rule was inspired by similar guidelines set forth by Judge William Alsup of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. He implemented his rule soon after taking the bench in 1999, but he also requires large firms to document how they will integrate junior attorneys into a case. Alsup says he does so for the good of the profession, as well as for up-and-coming lawyers.
“If we don’t train the next generation, then lawyering will suffer and the public will lose confidence” in the system, he says.
None of the rules mentions gender or race. But the measures can have the effect of increasing opportunities for women and minorities because they now make up a greater share of young attorneys. In 2016, according to ABA data, women composed more than half of matriculating students at all law schools, and minorities made up more than a third of such students. In 2009, 47 percent of all enrolled students were women and 23 percent were minorities.
Attorney Sharon Porcellio, who worked on the New York bar report, says she thinks the rules are an innovative way to address an age-old problem.
“Those of us who have been practicing for a long time had hoped that the pipeline theory”—the idea that increasing numbers of women and minorities in law school would lead to equal representation in practice—“would work,” she says. “The pipeline theory has not proven to work.”
Sunday, December 17, 2017
Meet Tamar Frankel, 92, First Woman Law Professor at Boston U and Intellectual Godmother of the Fiduciary Rule
Ms. Frankel, a law professor at Boston University, is the intellectual godmother of the fiduciary rule, a regulation from the U.S. Department of Labor requiring anyone being paid to provide investment advice on a retirement account to act in the best interest of the client. At the age of 92, Ms. Frankel still commutes to work five days a week, teaches two courses—and is unfazed that the Labor Department announced on Nov. 27 that it would delay implementing key parts of the fiduciary rule until July 2019.
After all, Ms. Frankel has been advocating that brokers should put their clients first for more than 40 years. What’s another 18 months?
Born in what was then Palestine in 1925, Ms. Frankel joined the Haganah, the paramilitary movement for Israeli independence, at age 14. Her father was the first president of Israel’s bar association, and she apprenticed in his practice. In 1949, she became the first general counsel of the Israeli Air Force. Two years later, when she was 26, her father died, and she took over his law practice.
In 1963, Ms. Frankel came to study at Harvard Law School. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on variable annuities, those mashups of mutual funds and insurance.
“That was perfect, because I knew very little about mutual funds and very little about insurance,” she says. “There are two ways you can react to not knowing: one is to feel afraid of your ignorance, the other is to be consumed by the desire to understand. I felt almost drunk with how much I could learn.”
In 1968, as she was still studying to complete her dissertation, Ms. Frankel joined Boston University. The field was so male-dominated that, when she arrived as the law school’s first female professor, BU relegated her office to the basement of the library.
“I didn’t have to put the books back on the shelf!” she laughs. “The craving for being part of the group, being accepted, that wasn’t my priority.”
After she turns 93 next July 4, Ms. Frankel says, she will stop teaching—although she will continue to research and write.
What accounts for her longevity? “Caring less and less about what other people think,” she says, “and more and more about questions you don’t have answers to.”
The BU Law Faculty in 1972 when Prof. Frankel was the only woman professor.
Friday, November 17, 2017
Taja-Nia Y. Henderson, "I Shall Talk to My Own People": The Intersectional Life and Times of Lutie A. Lytle, 102 Iowa L. Rev. 1983 (2017).
In the fall of 1898, the Chicago Tribune hailed Lutie A. Lytle of Topeka as the “only female law instructor in the world.” Notwithstanding this purported shattering of the legal academy’s glass ceiling, Lytle’s accomplishments—her path to the professoriate, and her career in the years following her appointment to the faculty of a Nashville law school—have been largely lost to historians of legal education. She is not among those honored or commemorated by our profession, and her name is largely unknown beyond a small circle of interest. The biographical sketch that follows fills this scholarly gap through an examination of Lytle as a historical figure, using contemporary newspaper accounts and other primary source material to provide context for her achievements and linking her life to previously understudied legal, political and social movements.
As a genre, biography seeks to use the life of the individual to tell a larger story about the collective. Feminist biography—probably best understood as both subgenre and method—has the same goals, but moves gender “to the center of the analysis.” This methodology asks not only how gender as a social category has impacted the lives of historical actors, but also how the unequal distribution of power resulting from existing gender hierarchies has influenced epistemologies of scholarly inquiry.
A biographical sketch of Lutie A. Lytle, a woman coming of age in the second half of the nineteenth century, warrants such treatment. Lytle’s career in the law was certainly impacted by gender as she was among the earliest cadre of women lawyers in the nation. As a student, she was the only woman enrolled in the Law Department of Central Tennessee College. When she was appointed as an instructor at the College, moreover, she was the only woman among the law school’s faculty. As a woman of African descent born during Reconstruction, however, Lytle (and her story) “cannot be captured wholly by” a methodology that moves only gender to the center. The intersection (or overlap) of Lytle’s identities as a woman of color and the daughter of former slaves requires that gender and race (and arguably, status and class) move to the center. In other words, a biographical sketch of Lytle’s life cannot privilege gender in isolation; it must also grapple with the persistence of race, racism, and the myriad legacies of chattel slavery in the subject’s world.
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
This paper examines the demographics of federal district court judges in the 10th Circuit. Consistent with the glass-ceiling effect literature in positions of power and influence in the legal profession, the study finds that women judges are under-represented on the 10th Circuit bench compared with their numbers as lawyers in the jurisdictions of the Circuit. However, the study finds that minority judges are over-represented in the Circuit. The paper next explores the relationship between under-representation, over-representation and discrimination. Under-representation that cannot be explained in terms of merit criteria or informed opting out, such as the under-representation of women on the 10th Circuit, strongly suggests the lingering effects of past exclusion and discrimination, as well as the current effects of implicit bias. As demonstrated by the over-representation of minority judges, the political commission process can break through the gender glass-ceiling by over-representing qualified women judges in the short run until their overall numbers better reflect equality.
Thursday, November 2, 2017
Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA J, Survey Chronicles Female Lawyers Exodus from Equity Partnership, Belief They Can't Have it All
Law firms are taking steps to improve gender equality, but it’s not translating to a better gender balance past the associate level, according to a new study.
The gender gap at high levels is much wider in law firms than in other industries, according to the study by McKinsey & Co. and Thomson Reuters. The study drew on survey responses by more than 2,500 lawyers and information from 23 of the nation’s top law firms, according to a press release.
Female lawyers are 29 percent less likely to be promoted to the first partnership level than men, and only 19 percent of equity partners are women, according to the “Women in Law Firms” study, available here. Female lawyers are 43 percent more likely to leave equity partnership than men, according to the one-year data sample.
Almost half of female lawyers say prioritizing work-life balance is one of the greatest challenges to their professional success. Only 44 percent of female lawyers think they can have a successful career and a full personal life, compared with 60 percent of men.
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
As sexual harassment dominates the news, a blog post here collecting some of the key sources for understanding the legal history of sexual harassment.
Lin Farley, NYT, I Coined the Term "Sexual Harassment." Corporations Stole It.
It wasn’t until April 1975 that women had a word for talking about what their male bosses were doing to them.
It was that month that I first used the phrase “sexual harassment” in public, during a hearing on women in the workplace by the New York City Human Rights Commission, at which I was testifying as an instructor at Cornell University. The New York Times covered the hearing in an article that was reprinted across the country. And thus, a concept was born.
Reva Siegel, A Short History of Sexual Harassment Law
As we have· seen, the practice and protest of sexual harassment have a long history, in which we can situate developments of the 1970s as a recent and relatively short chapter. But these developments nonetheless represent a dramatic turning point in social and legal understandings of the practice.
In the 1970s Catharine MacKinnon and Lin Farley and the many other lawyers and activists who represented women in and out of court were able to mount a concerted assault, of unprecedented magnitude and force, on the practice of sexual harassment. Responding on many fronts to the demands of the second-wave feminist movement, the American legal system began slowly to yield to this challenge, and for the first time recognized women's right to work free of unwanted sexual advances.
How did this come about? Sexual harassment law arose, first and foremost, from women acting as part of a· social movement speaking out about their experiences as women at work; the term "sexual harassment" itself grew out of a consciousness-raising session Lin Farley held in 1974 as part of a Cornell University course on women and work. But more was required for the American legal system to recognize this experience of gendered harm as a form of legal injury, when for centuries it had refused.
Carrie Baker, Sexual Harassment: Law for Women, By Women, in Feminist Legal History
Carrie Baker, The Women's Movement Against Sexual Harassment
Thursday, October 12, 2017
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
How marvelous. A fresh batch of “best” law firms for women lists. They are proliferating like bunnies across the American legal landscape. Law360, Working Mother and our own National Law Journal are just some of the publications that recently put out such lists. (Yale Law Women issues one too; it’s called “Top 10 Family-Friendly Firms”—a much more P.C. moniker.)
I’d love to say that these lists signal an abundance of opportunities for women in law. But that’s not how I see them. I find these lists confusing, if not misleading. And sad.
Often, firms get the “best” designation because they boast a high percentage of women lawyers—even though not many of them are actual shareholders.
The result is that firms with below-average percentage of women equity partners can get a skewed ranking, as I see it. For example, Baker McKenzie (16.4 percent female equity partners; the national average hovers around 18 percent) ranks No. 24 on the NLJ’s list, while Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison (23.3 female equity partners) only ranks No. 38. Using a similar formula, Law360 puts Baker McKenzie in second place on its best women’s list in the 600-plus law firm category, tying with Jackson Lewis.
To me the proof in the equality pudding is how many women are elevated to equity partner. If women aren’t equal stakeholders with men, how can anyone say they have any genuine power?
I’m all for encouraging institutions to reach lofty goals, but why laud firms so behind the curve? What’s so great about all those spiffy flexibility arrangements when female lawyers essentially have second-class status? ***
Instead of focusing on initiatives, I’d rather take a cold, hard look at where women are making equity partner. And here’s the reality check: Women are scarce in the top echelons of the profession.
The bottom line is that the sexy Big Law firms are not the places where women are making it in Big Law. So let’s call the “best firms for women” what it really is: a sad statement of how much women lag behind.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Rosemary Balmford moved through many professional barriers for women. She was the first woman to lecture in law at the University of Melbourne. She heard the first sex discrimination in employment case brought before the Equal Opportunity Board. She was the first woman appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria. She was also the first woman to preside over a murder trial in Victoria.
Rosemary Anne Balmford AM was born in Melbourne on September 15, 1933. Her parents were John and Ada Norris. Her father, Sir John, returned from serving as lieutenant-colonel in the AIF during World War II, resuming his law practice in 1945. He became a barrister and then a judge appointed to the County Court and later the Supreme Court. Her mother, Dame Ada, held the honour in her own right for her extensive charity work.
The law was not Rosemary's sole interest. Rosemary and Peter shared a lifelong love of travel and ornithology. They visited all seven continents, and returning from one extensive trip Rosemary commented: "I can now say we have travelled through George Bush's Axis-of-Evil," namely Iran, Iraq and North Korea. When asked the highlight of her trip, she replied: "The warmth of the Iranian people."
Rosemary served as secretary of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union (RAOU) and wrote Learning About Australian Birds (William Collins, 1981) later updated as The Beginners Guide to Australian Birds (Penguin Australia, 1990). It was not unusual for friends travelling with Rosemary and Peter to be encouraged to help them identify a bird.
In 1971, Rosemary was appointed as the founding executive director of the Leo Cussen Institute for Continuing Legal Education. It was at the Equal Opportunity Board, however, in 1979 that Rosemary heard the landmark sex discrimination in employment case of Deborah Wardley v Ansett. Ansett, a major domestic airline, had refused to employ the pilot Deborah Wardley because she was a woman. The board ruled that Ansett's refusal to employ Wardley was unlawful. She then became the first female commercial pilot in Australia.
In 1982, Rosemary was appointed as a senior member of the Commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Later, as a judge of the County Court, Rosemary made public her view on the opening up of the professions to women. Her argument was typical of her staunch and consistent logic, namely that to exclude women wasted the abilities of half the population.
In 1996, when Attorney-General Jan Wade appointed Rosemary the first female Supreme Court judge of Victoria, her influence on women in the legal profession was profound.
Thursday, September 28, 2017
American Bar Foundation,
William H. Neukom Fellows Research Chair in Diversity and Law
The American Bar Foundation (ABF) invites applications for its William H. Neukom Fellows Research Chair in Diversity and Law. This is a one-year, visiting position for the 2018-19 academic year. The ABF anticipates that the Neukom Chair will become a long-term position in the future.
We seek an outstanding scholar with a distinguished record of scholarship in law and the social sciences who is conducting empirical research on diversity and law, broadly conceived. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to, diversity in the legal profession and other institutions of justice; the impact of diversity on legal processes, legal institutions, and public policy; the roles of race, gender, disability, and sexuality in legal institutions and legal processes; and the interaction between legal processes and inequalities of race, gender, disability, and sexuality. Applicants from all social science fields, history, and law will be considered.
In addition to pursuing the Research Chair’s own research, the Neukom Fellows Research Chair will participate in the ABF’s expanding program of research in diversity and law. The Neukom Chair is expected to be in residence at the ABF during the visit, and to make at least one formal presentation on the scholarly work they are doing at the ABF.
The ABF is an independent, scholarly research institute committed to social science research on law, legal institutions, and legal processes. Its faculty consists of leading scholars in the fields of law, sociology, psychology, political science, economics, history, and anthropology. The ABF is strongly committed to diversity in hiring.
Review of applications will begin on December 15, 2017, but the search will be ongoing until the position is filled. We ask that applicants submit a letter of application, a curriculum vitae, a brief (no more than 2-page) description of current research and a list of three references.
Application letters should be addressed to Robert L. Nelson, Chair, Search Committee, and sent in electronic form to Holly Gitlin, Executive Assistant, at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Faculty Search.” Queries about the application process can be directed to Ms. Gitlin at (312) 988-6582.
The American Bar Foundation encourages diversity in its workforce and seeks to provide equality of opportunity for all applicants and employees. All persons are considered for positions on the basis of job-related requirements. All decisions regarding recruiting, hiring, promotion, assignment, training, termination, and other terms and conditions of employment will be made without unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, age, disability, veteran status, pregnancy, or marital status, in accordance with the ABF’s commitment to equal opportunity and all governing laws.
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Mark your calendars for panels on law and gender at the annual Association of American Law Schools (AALS) meeting, January 2018.
Thursday, Jan. 4
10:30am AALS Open Source Program – Mainstreaming Feminism
Saturday, Jan. 6
9:00am Women in Legal Education –Whispered Conversations Amplified
10:30am Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Issues – Relationships Between Religious
Exemptions and Principles of Equality and Inclusion
12:15pm Women in Legal Education Luncheon. Ticket price $75 per person.
1:30pm Women in Legal Education – Speed Mentoring
Full AALS Draft Program is here.
Friday, September 15, 2017
by Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke who represents New York’s Ninth Congressional District in Congress. She has served in Congress since 2007 and is co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women & Girls.
September 14th marks what would have been Constance Baker Motley’s 96th birthday. In 1966, Judge Motley became the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge. Yet, fifty years later, Black women are still heavily underrepresented at nearly all levels of the legal profession. While Black women are also underrepresented in the arts, sciences, media, and numerous other industries, our underrepresentation in the legal profession is particularly troubling, given its unique role in protecting the rights of those who lack the knowledge or resources to protect their constitutional rights.
The history of Black female attorneys in the United States really begins with Charlotte E. Ray. On March 2nd, 1872 Ms. Ray became the first Black woman to serve as a licensed attorney in the United States. Charlotte E. Ray was born in my home state of New York in 1850 at a time when slavery still existed and even freed Black women were taught that the measure of their success was their ability to care for the men in their lives. Not willing to accept this narrow definition of purpose, Ms. Ray hid her gender in order to gain acceptance to Howard Law School. She worked twice as hard as her male colleagues to graduate Phi Beta Kappa and was admitted to the District of Columbia Bar that same year. This made Ms. Ray only the third licensed female attorney in the United States. Ms. Ray was also a dedicated social advocate and served as a delegate to the 1876 Conference of the National Woman’s Suffrage Association.
While Charlotte E. Ray laid the foundation for Black women to serve as attorneys in the United States, it took nearly fifty years until a Black woman gained admission to the highest bar in the nation. This occurred on January 29, 1926 with the admission of Violette Neatley Anderson to the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. Ms. Anderson had served as a court reporter for fifteen years before attending the Chicago Law School. Like Charlotte E. Ray, Violette Neatley Anderson was deeply involved in her community and recognized the need for women of color to help each other overcome the unique barriers that stood in their way.
Yet, the tide of progress remained slow for Black women in the law. It took until January 25, 1966 until Constance Baker Motley was nominated to serve as a federal judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. By this point, Ms. Motley was already a towering figure in the law. Born in New York to parents from the Caribbean, Ms. Motley joined the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund soon after graduating from Columbia Law School. At LDF, Ms. Motley helped draft the original complaint in Brown v. Board of Education and became the first Black woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court, ultimately winning nine of the ten cases that she argued before that body.
More than fifty years after Constance Baker Motley became the first Black woman to serve as a federal judge, Black women are still grossly underrepresented at nearly all levels of the legal profession. Despite comprising more than 6.6 percent of the US population, Black women accounted for less than 5 percent of full time law school graduates for the 2014 and 2015 academic years. A January 2017 NALP report similarly found that Black women only accounted for 2.32 percent of associates at major law firms and a paltry 0.64 percent of partners.
Of the 578 active district court judges in the United States, 6.4 percent (37) are Black women. While this is roughly proportionate to our share of the U.S. population, 65 percent (24) of these district court judges were nominated within the past few years by President Obama. Unsurprisingly, Black female representation drops precipitously on the circuit courts. Of the 160 active circuit court judges, only 4.4 percent(7) are Black women. Two of those judges, representing 29 percent of the total figure, were appointed by President Obama. We need not even proceed to the highest court in the land, since it is well known that no Black woman has ever served on the Supreme Court
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Taunya Lovell Banks, President Obama and the Supremes: Obama's Legacy -- The Rise of Women's Voices on the Court, (forthcoming), Drake Law Rev. (forthcoming)
For approximately two hundred years, all of the United States Supreme Court justices were male. Now there are three women on the Court, two appointed during the administration of President Barack Obama. With the appointment of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan to the Court, women’s voices literally are more prominent, especially during oral argument. This article speculates on whether the presence of these three women on the Court will influence the substance of decisions. It asks whether we are witnessing the emergence of a definable “women’s” voice, in the collective sense, or whether there is simply a greater representation of women on the Court; women justices, who like their male counterparts, sometimes agree and sometimes do not. In addition, this article asks whether the reaction of some commentators, and male justices, to the increased participation of women justices during oral argument suggests implicit gender bias, another possible by-product of President Obama’s legacy.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Armie Hammer will start opposite Felicity Jones in On the Basis of Sex, the biopic of renowned Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Participant Media is behind the drama, which will be directed by Mimi Leder from a script by Daniel Stiepleman, who is also Ginsburg’s nephew.Sex focuses on Ginsburg, played by Jones, as she teams up with her husband, Marty Ginsburg (Hammer) to bring the first landmark gender discrimination case before the Supreme Court.
The movie is eyeing a fall shoot in Montreal.
The feature is slated for release in 2018, in line with Ginsburg's 25th anniversary as a Supreme Court Justice. Focus Features is distributing domestically.
Felicity Jones is set to star as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a biopic about the Supreme Court justice's life.
On the Basis of Sex will be directed by Mimi Leder (The Leftovers, Shameless) and follows Ginsburg as she fights for equal rights throughout her entire law career, which began at Harvard University and Columbia Law School and led to Washington.
At one time, Natalie Portman was considered to play Ginsburg in the feature, which was written by Daniel Stiepleman and was placed on the 2014 Black List.
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
New Books Network, Rosalind Rosenberg, Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray (Oxford 2017)
Rosalind Rosenberg‘s book Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray (Oxford University Press, 2017) is a multi-layered and rich biography of Pauli Murray, an activist, lawyer and Episcopal priest whose life intersected with the most significant civil and human rights issues of the twentieth century. As a mixed raced woman who felt that her identity was at odds with her body before transsexual had become part of the popular consciousness, Murray’s life provides insight into a lived intersectionality of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Beginning with her southern upbringing, we follow Murray through multiple educational, vocational and identity challenges she suffered. In a journey through a dislocated life, she contributed to multiple movements and institutions working with many key social leaders such as Thurgood Marshall, Eleanor Roosevelt and Betty Friedan. Appearing as a one-person social movement with a deep religious faith she pursued justice not only for herself but also for others. Rosenberg has provided sympathetic insight into the personal cost that Murray incurred on the road to a more equitable society. Rosalind Rosenberg is Professor of History Emerita at Barnard College.
Thursday, August 24, 2017
It is common for judges to publish guidance for lawyers who appear in their courtrooms on how to conduct themselves with regard to minor matters like how and when to file motions. But on Wednesday, Jack B. Weinstein, a senior federal judge in Brooklyn, used this typically mundane process to address an issue of growing concern to many in the legal profession: the lack of female lawyers in leading roles at trials and other court proceedings.
Following the lead of a handful of other federal judges, Judge Weinstein issued a court rule urging a more visible and substantive role for young female lawyers working on cases he is hearing.
The issuance of the rule was just one jurist’s effort to chip away at the traditional old-boy network that has dominated the legal profession for decades. While some women have, of course, ascended to the top of the legal field, serving on the United States Supreme Court, many still face challenges getting heard in court.
Judge Weinstein has informally encouraged young women and minorities to participate in court more actively over the years, but in an interview on Wednesday he said he decided to codify the guidance after a recent New York State Bar Association report found that female lawyers appear in court less frequently and that when they do, they are less likely to have a prominent role.
At least one other federal judge in Brooklyn, Ann M. Donnelly, has an analogous rule in place, but that sort of guidance is rare. Of the hundreds of other federal judges around the country, only about 20 have established similar provisions, according to the bar association.“I’ve been doing this on my own for some time, but not in a systematic way,” Judge Weinstein, who is 96, said. “It’s particularly important because we have so few trials these days so some of the youngsters don’t get the same training they used to. It’s important for everyone, and for the litigation process, that the upcoming generation understands the fundamentals and just gets up on their feet.”