News From Terre Haute, Indiana

State News

July 8, 2012

Maureen Hayden: Indiana Supreme Court needs gender balance

INDIANAPOLIS — Would you trust me to sit in judgment of you?

I ask because I’m a woman and there’s an opening on the all-male Indiana Supreme Court.

The answer to my question, of course, is no. I may have good judgment about some things, but with no law degree or legal experience of any kind, I’m not even close to being qualified.

But on the list of 22 applicants who have applied for the job, there are 16 smart women who are. There are some smart men on the list, too, but I’m not here to make their case.

In the past 30 years, there’s been a remarkable change in what it looks like to be a lawyer. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the number of female law students was close to 45 percent for 25 of those 30 years. The gender breakdown now is about half and half.

So law schools and law firms are filled with women, but that’s not so on the bench. The judiciary is still dominated by men, handing down judgments in criminal and civil cases and deciding what’s law.

Here’s why the National Women’s Law Center says that’s so wrong: When women are fairly represented in the judiciary, our courts more fairly reflect the diversity of the nation. And when women are fairly represented on the bench, women and men will likely have more confidence that the court understands the real-world implications of its rulings.

Here’s more: The increased presence of women on the bench improves the quality of justice because those women can bring an understanding of the impact of laws on the lives of women in ways that men can’t. They enrich their colleagues’ understanding of how best to realize the intended aims and impact of the law that the courts are charged with applying.

When the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission begins its first round of interviews of Supreme Court candidates on July 16-17, no doubt that case will be made by some applicants and commission members alike.

It’s already been made a couple of times. Gov. Mitch Daniels has appointed two justices to the state Supreme Court during his tenure — both smart, well-qualified men who were vetted by the nominating commission and among the top finalists recommended to Daniels.  

Here’s the closing argument I’d make, borrowed from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in an early 2009 interview with The New York Times, when — after the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — she was the only woman on the nation’s top court: It just doesn’t look right.

Here’s her full quote (taken from the Times story, which also described what Justice Ginsberg was wearing during the interview, right down to her earrings): “My basic concern about being all alone was the public got the wrong perception of the court. It just doesn’t look right in the year 2009.”

So it’s 2012 already. Time for the Indiana Supreme Court to start to look less male and a more right.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.



 

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