I remember bringing my daughter Emily, who was about twelve to a dermatologist for some blemishes that were bothering her. The dermatologist was a thirty-something woman with an authoritative, yet warm demeanor. Emily had gone in teary-eyed and concerned about her appearance and walked out smiling, confident and declaring: “I want to be a dermatologist!” The experience strengthened my belief that we see ourselves in the people we interact with and we get a sense of fair treatment when we can imagine ourselves in the same roles. Research backs up my anecdotal claim. Nilanjana Dasgupta wrote in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that exposure to female leaders dramatically reduces the stereotypic beliefs about gender stereotyping. Seeing women in positions of power will greatly enhance the acceptance of an election of a woman U.S. president.
My research has focused on gender parity in non-traditional fields, including the American presidency and the same “seeing is believing” thinking is part of the call to action by the Alliance for Justice, which has just released its report “Broadening the Bench: Professional Diversity and Judicial Nominations.” It argues that a truly diverse judiciary “is one that not only reflects the genders, ethnic, sexual orientation and the racial diversity of the nation, but is also comprised of judges who have been advocates for clients across the socio-economic spectrum, seeking justice on behalf of everyday Americans.”
The report cites the advocacy work of Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Often when we think of diversity on the Supreme Court our minds immediately go to gender parity but diversity is much more comprehensive than that. The Alliance for Justice calls upon:
- lawyers with public interest backgrounds to seek out and apply for federal judgeships
- advocacy groups, lawyers and others who work on judicial nominations to actively recruit judicial candidates
- state judicial selection commission and senator to encourage lawyers with professionally diverse backgrounds to apply for judicial vacancies
- President Obama to make professional diversity a priority
Indeed, the Supreme Court is more diverse than ever and there is still room for improvement. Justice Sonia Sotomayor has said: “I strive never to forget the real world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses and government.” It is this sentiment that is at the heart of the Alliance for Justice’s report because a more inclusive approach to nominations to the judiciary will bring greater justice to the everyday Americans who come before it. Sandra Day O’Connor concedes that “all of us come to the Court with our own personal histories and experiences” and Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent her life as a champion for gender equality. As Harvard Professor Michael J. Klarman writes in a tribute essay to her, “Ginsburg was an organizer, mobilizer, publicist, and educator for the sex equality movement – just as Thurgood Marshall had been for the civil rights movement a generation earlier.” She has earned the moniker “legal architect of the women’s movement.”
We need to see ourselves reflected in the judiciary because it gives us the confidence that we are being treated fairly. When will America be more balanced? When will there be full participation? When there is no “one look” for women leaders and not one profile for members of the judiciary, it gives our children inspiration, people interacting in the courts a sense of fairness and a future that promises full participation for everyone. Diversity in every walk of life, including the judiciary, makes that possible.