“People ask me sometimes, when — when do you think it will be enough? When will there be enough women on the court? And my answer is when there are nine.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s answer while speaking on women’s equality at Georgetown University in 2015 has become a mantra for women’s empowerment and equality — especially for women attorneys like me who are acutely aware that despite women making up over half of law school classes, they constitute less than half of the profession.
It’s not a secret that women leave the legal profession at a greater rate than men. Women barely reach half of the leadership positions in the profession. Fewer than 30 percent of federal judges are women; fewer than 50 percent of state supreme court justices are women. And according to a 2021 survey by the Brennan Center for Justice, only 37 percent of all lawyers are women.
It’s worse for women of color. A report by the American Bar Association revealed that 70 percent of women of color have left or are considering leaving the profession. Fewer than 2 percent of federal judges have been Black women.
Of the 115 justices who’ve served in the Supreme Court’s 230-year history, only three have been people of color and there’ve been only five women. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to serve on the court after her appointment by President Reagan only 40 years ago. President Clinton nominated Ginsburg in 1993. Currently, three women justices serve on the court: Justices Sonia Sotomayor (2009), Elena Kagan (2010) and Amy Barrett (2020). Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will be the first Black woman to serve on the high court. Her appointment to the bench means the total number of women currently serving on the Supreme Court will be four.
That’s why in February, when President Biden announced his nomination of Jackson to serve as associate justice on the Supreme Court, RBG’s quote was the first thing to come to my mind, and has repeatedly returned to my mind while we watched Jackson go through the nomination process. Her nomination is historic and will inspire many young women lawyers of all races.
On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance Jackson’s nomination to the Senate floor. The vote by the full Senate is expected to take place by the week’s end. The Freedom From Religion Foundation supports Jackson’s confirmation, and celebrates the boost in quality and diversity that her addition to the high court will bring. Jackson is a Harvard Law School graduate and former clerk to outgoing Justice Stephen Breyer. And she is a highly experienced judge who will bring the court closer to a place where it truly represents all Americans and stands up for the rights of all.
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While Jackson’s record on state/church separation is sparse, the issue of religion did come up at her confirmation hearings a couple of weeks ago when Sen. Lindsey Graham launched into a bizarre line of questioning regarding religion, which included inquiries into her own personal faith and whether she could judge a Catholic person fairly. Jackson responded admirably, noting the Constitution does not allow for a religious test for office, and in her position as judge it’s “very important to set aside one’s personal views.” I have every confidence that Jackson will be a staunch advocate for the fundamental rights of all Americans, including the right to a government that separates church from state.
Jackson’s confirmation will be a vital step in the right direction, and I’m personally excited that the Supreme Court will be closer to gender parity than ever before. With four women on the Supreme Court, we’ll be one step closer to Justice Ginsburg’s goal of “when there are nine.”