Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Monday, May 14, 2018

Trailblazing Appellate Moms

In honor of Mother's Day, I was thinking about some of the amazing women I know who both practice law and raise kids.  I could list several, but as I was considering the trailblazing appellate moms, my thoughts turned to the first two women on the Supreme Court--Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Sandra Day O'Connor was born in 1930 in El Paso, Texas.  She graduated third in her class from Stanford Law School in 1952 (the same year as William Rehnquist graduated from Stanford).  According to the Sandra Day O'Connor Institute:

After graduating from law school, O'Connor busily went about applying to law firms in San Francisco and Los Angeles, but because of the prejudices against women at that time, she could not get a job as a lawyer. She was offered a position as a legal secretary, which did not match her education and training. Instead, she took a position as a deputy county attorney in San Mateo, California, initially offering to work for no salary or office, and where she shared space with a secretary.  

During this same time she got married, and she and her husband spent some time overseas.  They eventually returned to Arizona, and she eventually took a job in the Arizona Attorney General's office, after taking some time off to raise her three sons.  She later served in the state senate, on the Maricopa County Superior Court, and on the Arizona Court of Appeals.  It was from the state appellate court that President Reagan picked O'Connor to serve as the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.  O'Connor served 24 years, retiring to, among other things, spend time with her husband.  

Ruth Bader Ginsburg also has an amazing story.  Born in 1933 in Brooklyn, she attended Cornell University, graduating in 1954.  She was married that year and quickly had her first child.  She actually started attending law school when her daughter was barely just one year old.  According to a biographical website:

[Ginsburg] encountered a very male-dominated, hostile environment, with only eight other females in her class of more than 500. The women were chided by the law school's dean for taking the places of qualified males. But Ginsburg pressed on and excelled academically, eventually becoming the first female member of the prestigious Harvard Law Review.

Prior to her appointment and confirmation to the Supreme Court, Ginsburg was an accomplished attorney, serving as the first female tenured professor at Columbia and arguing 6 important cases for the ACLU before the U.S. Supreme Court.  She served on the D.C. Circuit for over a decade before being nominated and confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993.  As Jennifer mentioned in a recent post, she is also the subject of a newly released documentary.

Thank you to these trailblazing female appellate attorneys, and a happy belated mother's day to all the moms out there.

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And thank you for the uplifting piece on these two amazing moms!

Posted by: Sylvia Lett | May 15, 2018 9:36:29 AM

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