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September 12, 2016 Practice Points

More Women in the Judiciary Means Justice for All

Critical mass for change begins around 20 percent.

By Tiffany deGruy – September 12, 2016

Jay Newton-Small’s article published in the National Law Journal entitled “More Women in the Judiciary Means Justice for All” discusses how “when females compose even just 20 to 30 percent of courts, changes are dramatic.” The article focuses on the sociological theory that when women reach between 20 and 30 percent of a body, whether it's a legislature, a court, or a corporate board, “they begin to really have an impact.”

Newton-Small describes how in 1995, Linda Morrissey—then a new county judge in Tulsa—quickly learned that unpaid child support often sparked domestic violence cases. Judge Morrissey, herself a mother of three small children, created a "rocket docket" for child support cases, to speed resolution and reduce domestic violence. If a defendant failed to pay after arraignment, Morrissey would bring the case to trial within 30 days, "even if I had to stay to midnight to see it done." The court generated $1 million in child support payments in the first year, paid on average in 32 days. The docket is still one of the most effective in the county.

The numbers of women on the bench have dramatically increased over the last 30 years. When the National Association of Women Judges was formed in 1979, it had 100 members. Today, it has more than 1,250 members, and women hold one third of the spots on the United States Supreme Court.

Newton-Small describes a 2005 study published in the Yale Law Journal which “found that not only were female judges significantly more likely than male judges to rule for plaintiffs in cases of sex discrimination or sexual harassment, but the presence of female judges on court panels significantly increased the likelihood that a male judge would rule for the plaintiffs in such cases.”

Newton-Small points out that the public section is ahead of the private sector with regard to women beginning to reach critical mass in the judiciary and argues that “[g]iven how much women have achieved in the judiciary, one can only imagine what achieving critical mass at law firms might bring.”

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, career, gender parity, law firms, women, female judges

Tiffany deGruy is with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, LLP in Birmingham, Alabama.

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