The Impact of Female Judges

In the wake of U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s announcement of his retirement at the end of the current term, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette printed an article by two researchers who studied the differences in jurisprudence between male and female judges. They looked at rulings in different areas of the law, including environmental, criminal, and sex discrimination cases. Their results were very interesting:

For the most part, we found no difference in the voting patterns of male and female judges, except when it comes to sex discrimination cases. There, we found that female judges are approximately 10 percent more likely to rule in favor of the party bringing the discrimination claim. We also found that the presence of a female judge causes male judges to vote differently. When male and female judges serve together to decide a sex discrimination case, the male judges are nearly 15 percent more likely to rule in favor of the party alleging discrimination than when they sit with male judges only.

This holds true even after we account for judges’ ideological leanings. If Mr. Obama is considering two fairly moderate people, one a woman and the other a man, we would expect the woman to cast more liberal votes in sex discrimination cases. The same would be true if the president were considering two very liberal candidates, again, one a man and one a woman.

Their research shows the importance of adding a female justice to the Supreme Court, especially considering the Court’s recent rulings in sex discrimination cases such as Ledbetter v. Goodyear. Currently, the only woman on the Supreme Court is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


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