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By all accounts, President Barack Obama will appoint a woman to the U.S. Supreme Court seat soon to be vacated by Justice David Souter. The short list is made up almost entirely of women: women governors, women judges, women law professors.
In fact, women hold dozens of seats on the nations’ appellate courts, deanships at top law schools, and some of the highest political offices. It is, quite simply, a different landscape than almost 30 years ago when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve on the highest court: Two hundred women are federal judges; one hundred sit on state supreme courts; And, one-third of chief justices of those courts are women. Seven governors are women.
But, even if a woman is appointed, let’s not be fooled into thinking that full equality is a reality.
While forty-five percent of law firm associates are women, only 19 percent of partners are women. Just under one-half of the nation’s law students are women, but we leave the profession in numbers far greater than our male counterparts.
The numbers for women of color are more striking: Forty-four percent report being passed over for desirable assignments; nearly half report being subjected to demeaning comments or harassment at their firms.
Change comes, but it comes slowly.
When Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Court’s first African American justice, was appointed in 1967, it did not mean an end to racial discrimination everywhere. Nor will gender inequality evaporate, if Justice Souter is replaced by a woman.
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