As women’s history month comes to a close, we’d like to take a moment to highlight some of the most influential women in justice. Though women statistically earn roughly 49.6% of degrees in law (1), they account for only 37.6% of lawyers, judges, and related workers in the United States (2). Therefore, each of the following women have played a significant role in creating history and establishing a path for women in the legal industry.
In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that the United States had its first EVER female Supreme Court Justice– enter Sandra Day O’Connor. In 1981, a mere 42 years ago, Former President Ronald Reagan appointed O’Connor to her position, where she held her seat on the highest court in the nation for nearly 25 years. After her retirement from the Supreme Court, O’Connor’s dedication didn’t stop, as is evident in her heavy participation in various non-profit organizations, presence at public speaking engagements, membership on boards and in groups, and involvement in academia.
Over 10 years after O’Connor made history, in 1993, in comes the 2nd ever female to sit on the Supreme Court– Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Appointed by Former President Bill Clinton, Justice Ginsburg served for 27 years until her passing on September 18, 2020. Throughout her career, Ginsburg played an instrumental part in shaping women’s rights in the United States, participating in several high-profile cases such as 1996 United States v. Virginia, where she wrote that it is unconstitutional for taxpayer-funded schools to turn away women.
Marking another historical moment in 2009, Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina Supreme Court justice. As a daughter of immigrant parents, Sotomayor was no stranger to adversity throughout her career. After graduating from Yale Law School in 1979, she worked as an assistant district attorney in New York. Following her service in the Southern District of New York, as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals, Sotomayor was appointed to the Supreme Court by Former President Barack Obama.
As one of the few Supreme Court Justices to have never previously served as a judge, Elena Kagan was an unconventional choice for the seat. But like her fellow female justices on the Supreme Court, Kagan had a record of making history as well. Prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court in 2010 by Former President Barack Obama, Kagan had created a legacy as the first woman solicitor general (serving Obama) and the first-ever woman dean of Harvard Law School– her alma mater.
When Justice Ginsberg passed in 2020, a seat opened up on the Supreme Court. To fill the position, Former President Donald Trump appointed Amy Coney Barrett. Following two years in private law practice, Barrett became a full-time law professor, first at George Washington University Law School, then on to her alma mater Notre Dame. In 2017, Barrett was confirmed to the Seventh Circuit by a vote of 55-43. Just a few years later, filling the vacancy left by Justice Ginsberg, Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court in October 2020.
In 2022, we may now be on the verge of welcoming our 6th-ever female Supreme Court justice. Nominated by President Joe Biden, Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed on June 14, 2021, by a vote of 53-44.