Justice Samuel Alito caused a stir when he rolled his eyes last month while Ruth Bader Ginsburg read a dissenting opinion in a sexual harassment case. Salon reporter Marin Cogan tackles a larger issue on Salon.com today: the small number of women arguing cases before the nation’s highest court.
According to a recent Associated Press story, women make up just 17 percent of Court regulars.
“There’s a very small and elite Supreme Court bar that argues very regularly before the court. I can pick off on 10 fingers who they are, and almost all are men,” says Lisa T. McElroy, an associate professor at Drexel University who has written for the New York Times and SCOTUSblog.
Most in the Supreme court bar are former clerks to justices or attorneys from the solicitor general’s office, areas where women are starting to make inroads, but slowly. The first woman to argue before the court, Belva Ann Lockwood, had to persuade Congress to pass a low forcing her recognition in 1879.
Ideology doesn’t always determine how individual justices feel on the issue. Former conservative Justice William Rehnquist once told a lawyer in the solicitor general’s office that her brown skirt suit was inappropriate attire, but he did employ women as law clerks. Former Justice William Brennan, a liberal, refused to hire women.
With three women on the Supreme Court, it’s likely that women will also start to show up in increasing numbers arguing cases before the justices.