Opinion: ‘Why Aren’t We Getting’ More Women Judges?

“We desperately need more women judges, so why aren’t we getting them?”

A Washington Post column by Petula Dvorak asked this question hours after the Virginia General Assembly elected Court of Appeals Judge Stephen McCullough for the Virginia Supreme Court, effectively removing an interim appointee, Justice Jane Marum Roush (see Gavel Grab).

“In the highest state courts across the country, only 29 percent of judges are women, according to the National Association for Women Judges,” Dvorak wrote. “Is this because we simply don’t have women qualified for judicial appointments? Of course not.” Dvorak turned to an expert for the answer:

“’It’s because we’re not in the back rooms yet,’ Penny J. White, a law professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, told me when Roush was fighting to keep her job last fall. White knows something about this, having served on the Tennessee State Supreme Court. ‘When those backroom deals are made, it’s mostly men making those decisions.’”

Virginia is one of two states where legislatures elect judges. The fight over a vacancy on its high court played out over months in stark partisan outline between Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who appointed Justice Roush twice, and Republicans controlling the legislature. Roush “had a distinguished 22-year judicial record in Fairfax County” before her elevation to the high court, according to Dvorak; McCullough became a judge in 2011.

Law Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond said that “this very public and nearly unprecedented episode of judicial politics has detrimentally affected the court, the judicial system, the candidates, the General Assembly and the governor,” according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The National Association of Women Judges is a Justice at Stake partner organization.