What another woman would bring to Supreme Court
Expectations are high that Obama will nominate a woman. Though female jurisprudence is not much different from that of male judges, women tend to be more pro-women's rights and to tilt more toward plaintiffs in sex-discrimination cases.
The only two women ever to have served on the US Supreme Court – Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg – have a saying: "At the end of the day, a wise old man and a wise old woman reach the same judgment."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But there's a "but." Justice Ginsburg herself speaks of the perceptions women have because they are women. And a recent study finds that, at least in sex-discrimination cases, there is a difference between how male and female judges rule.
The nine-member high court is down to one woman after Justice O'Connor retired and was replaced in 2005 by Justice Samuel Alito. Speculation is strong that President Obama will nominate a woman to replace retiring Justice David Souter. Women dominate the lists of names Mr. Obama is reportedly considering.
For advocates of women's rights, adding another female justice is not about diversity for diversity's sake. It's about bringing women's perspectives and life experiences into interpretations of law, and about helping the male justices see things through their eyes.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, says that when she first began pushing to get more women into a variety of professions, including law and politics, she assumed that they would behave similarly to people of their ideological bent. Indeed, a conservative woman rules and votes differently from a liberal woman.
"But all things being the same, I discovered that a conservative woman acts more pro-women's rights than a conservative man," Ms. Smeal says.
A recent study by three academics focusing on the votes of federal court of appeals judges bears out this observation. The research, conducted by Lee Epstein of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago and Christina Boyd and Andrew Martin of Washington University in St. Louis, found that on most issues, there was no difference in the voting patterns of male and female judges. But in sex-discrimination cases, female judges were about 10 percent more likely to rule for the party bringing the suit.
Female appeals-court judges also appeared to have an impact on their male colleagues. The study found that when male and female judges sit together on a sex-discrimination case, the men are almost 15 percent more likely to rule for the plaintiff than when only men are ruling. The study controlled for ideological leanings.