In their report, “Untangling the Causal Effects of Sex on Judging,” researchers Christina L. Boyd, Lee Epstein and Andrew D. Martin summarize their study of federal court of appeals judges’ voting patterns. They found that, in sex discrimination cases, female judges are ten percent more likely to rule in favor of the party bringing the claim. The presence of a female judge causes male judges to vote differently, too. When they serve with female judges, male judges are nearly 15 percent more likely to rule in favor of the party alleging discrimination than when they sit with male judges only. This held true even after judges’ ideological leanings were accounted for.
At a Planned Parenthood conference in 2007, Obama explained his Senate votes against confirming Justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts, saying, “We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old.” At an appearance on Friday, Obama said he intends to find a nominee “who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook” but is also about “how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives.”
It’s not that rich, able-bodied, straight, white men can’t have empathy for marginalized groups, but diversity of background and experience clearly makes a difference in the way judges understand the world and come to their decisions. Right now, the makeup of the Supreme Court does not reflect the makeup of American society. I don’t have a preference for any one of the aforementioned women, but I am pretty confident that President Obama will make a sound decision.