Wednesday, March 23, 2022
Susan Tolchin, The Exclusion of Women from the Judicial Process, Signs J. (1977)
Amid the areas from which women are excluded one stands out, neglected by scholars, public officials, representatives of women's groups and the national media: the representation of women in the judicial system. Only when Supreme Court vacancies open is there public dialogue on the feasibility of appointing women. Then the tone of debate is too often one of frivolity or outrage. ***
The key to judicial selection lies in the political system. The exclusion of women from the bench is therefore a reflection of women's lack of political power, which has enabled both major political parties to ignore them. The power to select judges rests with selected elites. Whom they choose as judges depends on a variety of factors, not the least of which are their political and personal obligations.3 Bar association elites, for example, often predominate in merit-selection plans (such as the Missouri Plan) since they overwhelm the laymen on the selection panels, while party leaders tend to dominate the election process. Since judgeships are still regarded as relatively unimportant by the public at large, party leaders who slate nominees for judicial office wield greater control over judgeships than over offices which attract more public attention.
On the federal level, the American Bar Association exercises an extraordinary amount of influence over judicial appointments. The composition of the officers and board of governors of the ABA may best reveal why women occupy less than 2 percent of all federal judgeships. Of the seven officers and twenty-two members of the board of governors, not one is a woman.
My own work on Florence Allen, the first woman appointed to a federal appellate court (Sixth Circuit, 1934 by FDR), bears out this idea and history. See Tracy Thomas, The Jurisprudence of the First Woman Judge, Florence Allen, 27 W&M J. Race, Gender & Soc. Justice 293 (2021).