The confirmation of Lord Dyson as the Twelfth Justice of the UK Supreme Court means that Lady Hale will continue to be the Court’s sole female judge for the time being. 

As we have previously reported, the UK Supreme Court has received criticism for its lack of diversity (and we will soon be posting an article on judicial diversity in the UK). 

This has made us look to our friends across the pond.  Out of the 9 Justices in the US Supreme Court, two of them are women.  This time last year, Justice Ruth Ginsburg was the only female on the panel (as had been the case since the retirement of Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Justice in the US Supreme Court, in 2006), but Barack Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor last May (the first nomination by a Democrat president since 1994), and her appointment as a Justice on August 8 2009, nudged the number of women on the panel up to two.

The appointment of Justice Sotomayor was seen as important for a number of reasons.  She is the first Hispanic Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, and out of the 111 Justices that have been appointed in the history of the US Supreme Court, she is only the third female. 

However, critics viewed the appointment of Justice Sotomayor as one that was based on affirmative action, rather than merit.  Despite the fact that she attended two Ivy League universities, served as Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney’s, worked as an international litigator, was nominated by George H.W. Bush to the US District Court and served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, it seems that a lot of people did not think she deserved her nomination.

Justice Sotomayor was accused of being an aggressive questioner (something that goes unremarked in male Justices – indeed, in an interview that appeared in the New York Times, Justice Ruth Ginsburg comments that being an aggressive questioner is nothing new, saying “has anybody watched Scalia or Breyer up on the bench?“), and criticised for a comment she once made about Latina women (in 2001, she said “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life”), which was seized upon by adversaries of Obama. 

Notwithstanding the criticism that surrounded her nomination, her appointment to the Court was wholly supported by the Democrats in the Senate (she did not receive one adverse vote from a Democrat), although 31 of the 40 Republicans in the House voted against her.

So, why is it so important for women to be represented in the US Supreme Court?  In Justice Ginsburg’s opinion, it is important for women to penetrate “a man’s world“.  She says that “if you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers“.  It is, in her view, important for the voices of women to be heard.  She also believes that the presence of more female Justices could mean different results, saying that she thinks the presence of women on the bench made it possible for the courts to appreciate earlier than they might otherwise that sexual harassment is a violation of civil rights law. 

For now at least, the US are ahead of the UK in terms of female representation in the highest court of their land, although Justice Ginsburg comments that “attrition rate is slow in [the US Supreme Court]” (and she seems to be right, it took almost 200 years for the first woman Justice to be appointed).  Whether or not more females will be nominated (or a female Chief Justice may one day be appointed) remains to be seen, but we are told that anything is possible in the Land of Opportunity…