March 2, 2022
On March 1, 2022, President Joe Biden proclaimed March to be Women’s History Month. Just a few days prior, he nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. If confirmed, four out of the nine (44%) members of that court would be women, a number consistent with the total percentage of justices currently serving on state courts of last resort. The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) is commemorating Women’s History Month by presenting the latest statistics on the female justices sitting in the state courts of last resort.
of sitting justices
courts have 40%
courts have 50%
These statistics were collected in late February 2022 from state court websites and media sources. Statistics were generated based on 346 sitting justices. At this time, California, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Vermont, and the District of Columbia have vacancies in their courts. There are 53 state courts of last resort. Additionally, these justices ascribe to she/her/hers pronouns in their respective biographies.
Unfortunately, most courts do not provide demographic data on the identity of justices. Therefore, NCSC cannot accurately collect data on the racial composition of justices. We have provided the resources below for more information on racial composition. National Women’s Month is for all women. Only a handful of states reflect the racial diversity of their respective populations:
- Racial Diversity in the Judiciary – Minority Groups are Significantly Underrepresented in the US Judicial System; and
- The Brennan Center provided data on racial makeup of judges in April 2021.
In 1977, NCSC collected similar data on female justices and compiled data from a West Publishing Company survey. Seven white female State Supreme Court Justices were serving at the time:
- 1962: Susie Sharp (NC) served until 1978 and was Chief for the last 4 years;
- 1973: Mary S. Coleman (MI) served until 1982 and was Chief for the last 4 years;
- 1974: Elsijane T. Roy (AR) was elected in 1974 and served until 1977;
- 1974: Janie Shores (AL) served until 1999;
- 1976: Shirley S. Abrahamson (WI) served until 2019 and was Chief 1996-2015;
- 1977: Ruth I Abrams (MA) was nominated in 1977 and served until 2000; and
- 1977: Rose Elizabeth Bird (CA) served as Chief 1977-1987.
The first African American female judge in the United States was Jane Bolin. She was sworn in on July 22, 1939 and served on New York’s Family Court for four decades. In 1966, Constance Baker Motley was the first African American woman to serve as a federal judge and argue in front of the US Supreme Court. She Will Rise tracks Black female judges in federal courts. In 1989, Justice Joyce Kennard was the first Asian-American woman to serve on the Court of Last Resort in California. The first Latina was nominated for California’s vacancy recently. NCSC remembers their contributions to the court system and thanks them for their service.
What recruitment practices have you examined to ensure a more diverse bench? Let us know at Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164. Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn , and Vimeo!