Women Judges on the Bench: The Quality of Justice


by Amy Matsui, Senior Counsel, 
National Women's Law Center

It’s come up a lot: Elena Kagan would be the fourth woman Justice ever to be confirmed to the Supreme Court, and would, for the first time, join two other female Justices on the bench. It’s worth thinking about why that matters.

We’ve said before that having three women on the nine-Justice Supreme Court would better reflect both the composition of the legal profession and, most importantly, the people of this country.

But a diverse bench also improves the quality of judicial decision-making. At least one recent study tried to determine whether female and male federal appellate judges voted differently in a wide variety of legal claims. And as two of the authors of the study put it, "when women rule, it makes a difference."

The researchers found that female judges are more likely than male judges to vote in favor of plaintiffs alleging sex discrimination. Somewhat more surprisingly, they also found that male judges are more likely to vote for such a plaintiff if a female judge is on the panel than if the panel is composed of all male judges.

This study brings home how important it is to have a woman’s voice in the judicial decision-making process for courts to arrive at a good decision at the end of the day, and to have justice that serves both men and women. And other studies suggest that the more women there are, the more impact they have. It’s food for thought on Day Three of the confirmation hearings. 

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