This week, three of the women most talked about as potential new Supreme Court Justices just happened to be in Washington.

Conferences happen a lot at Georgetown Law School, many with names like “Fair and Independent Courts in a New Era.” But this week’s conference by that name was dedicated to Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman on the Court, and at least two of the women on President Obama’s reported short list for the Court were in town for the event. After news leaked that one potential nominee, Judge Diane Wood, was scheduled to meet with the President, “Television cameras filmed Ms. Wood on Wednesday as she walked through the crowd of legal scholars and judges,” reported the New York Times. Wood told reporters “she had long planned to attend the conference and would not answer any questions at the event about the Supreme Court.” Also on the speakers’ list for the conference: Solicitor General Elena Kagan, left, who like Wood is already a target of conservative Web sites opposing Obama’s potential nominees.

Meanwhile, Court buzz also followed the Washington arrival of Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, in town for a clean-air summit and the President’s announcement of new fuel-efficiency standards. The Christian Science Monitor’s Vote Blog whispered that Granholm is “no stranger to the Obama White House. In fact, during the 2008 campaign, she’s the one they called in to prep then-Senator Biden for the high stakes vice presidential debate. And considering Biden’s loquacious nature, this was a titanic assignment. And considering that the debate was not Titanic-like, it speaks highly of Granholm’s abilities.”

In case you’re not convinced of the need for a woman’s appointment to the Court, this week has provided two reminders.

  • First, on Monday, came the Court’s  7-2 decision in AT&T Corp. vs. Noreen Hulteen et al., allowing discrimination in pension benefits if the employee in question took maternity leave before 1979: “The year before, Congress changed the law and said pregnancy must be treated like other temporary disabilities. In a 7-2 decision, the court agreed with AT&T Corp. and refused to award pension credits to those who took a pregnancy leave before the change. The ruling in AT&T vs. Hulteen reversed a decision of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.”
  • Today’s Christian Science Monitor reports on a new study showing that on courts that include women every member would tend to vote differently:

Lee Epstein

The research, conducted by Lee Epstein of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago and Christina Boyd and Andrew Martin of Washington University in St. Louis, found that on most issues, there was no difference in the voting patterns of male and female judges. But in sex-discrimination cases, female judges were about 10 percent more likely to rule for the party bringing the suit.

Female appeals-court judges also appeared to have an impact on their male colleagues. The study found that when male and female judges sit together on a sex-discrimination case, the men are almost 15 percent more likely to rule for the plaintiff than when only men are ruling. The study controlled for ideological leanings.

“If Obama is considering two fairly moderate people, one a woman and the other a man, we would expect the woman to cast more liberal votes in sex-discrimination cases,” two of the researchers wrote in The Washington Post on May 3. “The same would be true if the president were considering two very liberal candidates, again, one a man and one a woman.

The recently argued Supreme Court case over the strip-search of a 13-year-old girl, though not a sex-discrimination case, illustrates how often-like-minded judges of opposite sexes can see things differently. During the argument, Ginsburg expressed indignation at the idea of an adolescent girl being asked to shake out her bra and panties in front of school administrators.

Justice Stephen Breyer seemed to shrug. “In my experience, when I was eight or 10 or 12 years old, you know, we did take our clothes off once a day, we changed for gym, OK?” he said.

In an interview later with USA Today, Ginsburg elaborated on her perspective in the case – and that of some of the male justices. “They have never been a 13-year-old girl,” the justice said. “It’s a very sensitive age for a girl. I didn’t think that my colleagues, some of them, quite understood.”

Read WVFC’s briefs on both Kagan and Wood here; below, watch Ginsburg talk about her job. We hope she won’t be the only female Justice much longer.

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