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Gender Bias at the Supreme Court

In 1873, the Supreme Court affirmed the Illinois Bar in denying admission to a woman, explaining, "The paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother." We've come a long way in the 134 years since -- or have we?

By way of the blog Empirical Legal Studies comes word of new research showing that women attorneys have less success before the Supreme Court than men. This is true both when a woman argues the case and when women form part of the appellate team. In fact, the research indicates that the higher the proportion of women on the appellate team, the lower the likelihood of success.

Why is this? Two reasons, say the study's authors, political science professors John J. Szmer of the University of North Carolina and Tammy A. Sarver of Benedictine University. One is the "different voice theory," the notion that women "will construct different types of arguments than male attorneys, and the male-dominated U.S. Supreme Court will be less receptive to arguments presented by women attorneys." The second, more troubling reason is that a justice's political ideology is a measure of his responsiveness to women lawyers. The authors explain:

"Conservative justices are significantly more likely to support litigants that are represented by more men. Conservative justices are less receptive to arguments constructed by women."

The dominance of men on the Supreme Court bench makes it impossible to generalize more broadly about the interaction of justice and attorney gender, the authors say. They urge further research examining the role of attorney gender in other courts, "particularly those with more gender diversity amongst the judges." But at the Supreme Court, they conclude, the picture their research draws is "rather grim."

Read their paper and decide for yourself: Have We Come A Long Way, Baby?: Female Attorneys Before the United States Supreme Court.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on February 26, 2007 at 05:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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