Williamsburg, Va. (April 21, 2010) — President Barack Obama holds a bipartisan summit at the White House today to seek input from congressional leaders on potential nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. Should the president nominate a woman to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, it would mark the first time in American history that the U.S. Supreme Court has had three female members, representing 33 percent of the seats on the court. Across the country, however, nearly half of state courts of last resort — 25 of 53* — already have that level of gender balance, or greater. Women currently constitute 31 percent of all sitting justices on state courts of last resort.
The president doesn’t have to look beyond the Beltway to find the court of last resort with the highest percentage of women. Six of the nine members, or 67 percent, of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals are women. As of April 1, three states have a female majority on their highest courts: Tennessee at 60 percent, and Wisconsin and Michigan, both at 57 percent. All three of these states have a female Chief Justice. Nationwide, women head 20 of the 53 courts of last resort.
The first woman to serve on a state supreme court was Florence Ellinwood Allen, who was elected to the Ohio Supreme Court in 1922.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female justice on the U.S. Supreme Court when President Ronald Reagan nominated her in 1981. She retired in 2006. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the second in 1993, nominated by President Bill Clinton. Justice Sonia Sotomayor became the third women to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court when President Obama nominated her in 2009.
*The 53 state courts of last resort include the supreme courts of all 50 states, the criminal courts of last resort in Oklahoma and Texas, which are separate from those states' supreme courts, and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
No. of Seats on Court
No. of Women on Court
% of Women on Court
District of Columbia
Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals**
Texas Supreme Court
as of April 1, 2010 **indicates court has female Chief Justice
The NCSC Backgrounder is designed to provide the media with statistics and facts related to current issues of interest.
The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation's state courts.