February 12, 2013

On Books

Lynn Hecht Schafran


With Grit and By Grace: Breaking Trails in Law and Politics

288 pages

Betty Roberts (Oregon State University Press 2008)

Betty Roberts (1923–2011) started out on literally the wrong side of the tracks, rising from a Depression-era childhood in Texas to become the first woman on the Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court. Along the way she was a high school teacher, a college professor, a lawyer, a legislator, and the single parent of four children—usually holding several of those titles simultaneously. She proved wrong the men who early in her career told her that women can’t, don’t, and shouldn’t, and worked collegially with male legislators to pass a raft of women’s rights laws in the 1970s (an amazing list to read as we in 2013 struggle to defend what we thought we had already won). But when she arrived at the Oregon Court of Appeals in 1977, she was shocked to encounter such overt bias from the chief judge that other judges commented on it. Roberts persevered and moved on to the Oregon Supreme Court where, at the insistence of the chief justice there who initiated an education program on gender and race bias for the court, she told all. Always she was a mentor, aware of how her performance as a lawyer, a legislator, a judge, and a justice would impact the possibilities for women coming after her. Betty Roberts was a trailblazing heroine for women and men throughout Oregon. With this straight-shooting autobiography, all readers can learn from her legacy.

Gender and Justice: Why Women in the Judiciary Really Matter

328 pages

Sally Kenney (Routledge 2012)

The presence of three women on the U.S. Supreme Court should mean that women judges have arrived and women no longer need to push for them. But as the sexist questioning during Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation and this meticulously researched book attest, we are not there yet. Sally Kenney is a political scientist who has tracked every nuance of women judges’ appointment/election and treatment in the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union for decades. She compares the strategies that put women on high courts and documents the barriers—those that have been overcome and those still standing. She describes five types of backlash against women judges, ranging from tougher confirmations to “brazen hostility” from peers and press, and provides the specifics. Kenney notes that research into an alleged “difference” in decision making between women and men judges has found almost none. (A woman on a federal appellate panel in sex discrimination cases makes it twice as likely the female plaintiff will win, but that’s it.) She urges that we argue for women judges on the grounds of women’s right to participate in this core task of citizenship, and because a judiciary representative of the diversity of human experience gives legitimacy to courts’ decisions. Kenney reminds us that sex is not a proxy for feminism and urges “continued mobilization to ensure the selection of judges capable of a gender analysis and committed to women’s equality.”

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