August 3, 2012 5:45 AM
Culminating more than 10 years of research and advocacy, Sally J. Kenney makes the case for more women judges in her new book, Gender and Justice: Why Women in the Judiciary Really Matter. In the process, Kenney, executive director of the Newcomb College Institute and a political scientist, also rebuts the belief that women are essentially different than men.
“Contrary to popular belief, women’s progress is not natural, inevitable or irreversible. The number of women judges will not necessarily grow merely because women make up a greater percentage of the qualified labor pool,” says Kenney, a political science professor who holds the first Newcomb College Endowed Chair.
In addition to issuing a wake-up call about stalled progress or reversals, Kenney’s book offers an example of how to do gender analysis.
In five jurisdictions, Kenney looks at women judges in order to understand different political processes: emotions and social movement mobilization in the state of Minnesota, policy implementation in the Carter Administration, agenda setting in the United Kingdom, representation in the European Court of Justice and backlash in California.
She rebuts studies that attempt to show women decide cases differently than men and draws on the history of women’s campaigns to serve on juries to show how women can achieve full citizenship without arguing from difference.
Although many state court judges are elected, political scientists and advocates for greater political power for women tend to ignore the third branch of government, she says. Interestingly, women have been successful in judicial office in the South, where a political culture supposedly impedes their progress in legislative and executive office.
Kenney is next tackling the puzzle of why there is variation, state by state, on the number of women on state supreme courts. She is eagerly following judicial developments in Louisiana, and is working closely with the National Association of Women Judges as it holds its national conference in New Orleans in 2013.
Aidan Smith is external affairs officer for the Newcomb College Institute.
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