Although Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who is undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer, plans to return to work, the prognosis for pancreatic cancer is often poor. It has become a very real possibility that the only female justice on the Supreme Court will have to be replaced.
While I am positive that Ginsberg will be replaced with another female justice, it raises the question; on a nine-member court, why is only one of those members a woman?
Since the Supreme Court began in 1790, there have been over 110 male members and two female members. The first female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, was not appointed until 1981, a startling 191 years after the court began. The second woman, Ginsberg, joined the court in 1993, and for a period of 13 years, both women served simultaneously, making it the first time in history that two women had been represented on the Supreme Court. O’Connor retired from the court in 2006, citing her age and a desire to spend time with her family, leaving Ginsberg the lone female on the court.
So why is there such a lack of equity between women and men on the Supreme Court? Women weren’t even allowed to vote until 1920, which hindered their prospects for positions as justices. But it has most often been said that there were simply not enough women rising up through the ranks of the legal profession.
According to the American Bar Association (ABA), in 2007, only 30.1 percent of the 1,143,358 lawyers in the United States were female. But that same year, almost half of law-school graduates were women, which means that the number of female lawyers is still increasing. That means the number of women on the path to being qualified for Supreme Court justice is also rising.
Compared with other courts at different levels, the Supreme Court has the largest gender difference, as women account for only 11 percent of the judges, according to the ABA. Females make up 24 percent of the over 600 judicial seats on district courts and 25.1 percent of the 167 circuit court seats nationwide.
But even though the number of women in the profession is growing, perhaps the problem lies with the judicial system itself, which still operates under a “good ole boys” mentality, which prevents qualified women from being considered for the position of Supreme Court justice.
Women shouldn’t have to be token members of the Supreme Court. A woman on the Supreme Court is not just there as a symbolic representation of gender or to appease the appetites of equality minded individuals; they serve a real purpose too. The life and societal experiences that women have differ greatly from those of men, something which factors into their decision making process, even as judges.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make up 50.7 percent of the population of the United States, and thus the gender representation on the Supreme Court should match that. Ideally the Supreme Court would have 4-5 female justices on it. But if that ratio can’t be reached, the number should at least match the 25 percent of female judges in the lower courts.
The judicial branch is the most important branch of the government. They are responsible for checking the other branches and ensuring the rights of the American people. But how are they expected to do that accurately without representing the female population? Answer: they can’t.
It has been too long that only one woman has been the token gender representative on the Supreme Court. The country and the government need to wake up and ensure that women are more equally represented on the nation’s highest court.