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July 2nd, 2010
09:00 AM ET

Gut Check: Do female judges rule differently than men?

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (L) talks with Elena Kagan May 20, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (L) talks with Elena Kagan May 20, 2009 in Washington, DC.

By Ronni Berke and Carol Costello, CNN

(CNN) – It was a decidedly feminine moment – as far as Supreme Court nomination hearings go. Senators chuckled when Elena Kagan said she'd have to get her hair done more often if cameras were allowed in the Supreme Court.

It's another reminder that, if confirmed, Kagan would be one of three women currently serving on the high court. Many women legal scholars say they are thrilled the court is becoming more gender-balanced. But it's not entirely clear whether having more women justices will have any real impact on the court's decisions.

Do female judges rule differently than men?

A recent study by State University of New York, Northwestern University, and Washington University researchers found no significant difference in the way female and male judges decided cases, except one: sex discrimination. In those cases, female judges were 10 percent more likely to rule in favor of the victim. The Supreme Court's female touch Video

Emily Jane Goodman, a New York State Supreme Court judge, says women judges have a different approach.

"The sensibility, I think, makes you interpret things in a certain way and look at things in a certain way. Whether that will dictate the outcome is a whole different story, because you have to put your understanding, your experiences into the framework of the law."

Marcia Greenberger, of the National Women's Law Center, says women judges bring a critical perspective to their male colleagues. She cites a 2009 Supreme Court case involving school officials strip-searching a 13-year-old girl. During oral arguments, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke of the humiliation experienced by the young girl. (The male justices ruled with Ginsburg; the school was faulted).

"What's so good about having both men and women as part of that decision is that they can bring their experience to bear to figure out what the law was really intended to mean and how it applies in practice," says Greenberger.

So are women judges as tough as male judges?

"I don't know that tough is automatically a positive thing," says Goodman. "The goal is for justice to be done. Remember that "Justice" is a lady.”


Filed under: Gut Check • Supreme Court
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Mike M.

    It has nothing to do with being Reb or Dem, but it does have much to do with religion and income. The majority of woman feel they have been burned by men and for that reason will fail to see a clear view to justice for a man where as a woman, they will seek a lesser sentence for them.

    July 12, 2010 at 9:42 am |
  2. grannybunny

    Clearly, women in big firms have an advantage when it gets to be appointed to the Federal judiciary, and their firms represent the "Haves" and also contribute to the POTUS making the nomination and the senators confirming it, but Federal judges do not stand for election. There are, however, some Federal judges who have "worked their way up" in the public sector, including first serving as state court judges, who are elected (or retained under the "Missouri Plan").

    July 7, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  3. Ken in NC

    I should better clarify my previous entry.

    If a man wants something done and done right then he should assign a woman to get it done and she will insure the man does it right.

    July 4, 2010 at 7:18 am |
  4. Ken in NC

    If ya want it done right, give it to a woman. She will make you do it right.

    July 4, 2010 at 7:16 am |
  5. Smith in Oregon

    There are very few female federal judges who Big Oil and the Republican fundraisers have entirely paid for their campaign elections.

    In that regards YES those Women Jurists that weren't hand picked, groomed, financed and plugged into a Federal Justice seat are NOT going to have a myopic ultra-right conservative special interest view on life and reward corporate interests and Republican 'friends' that come before them.

    July 4, 2010 at 3:59 am |
  6. Pepe Santos

    All women on the SP are liberal. Bad slanted inaccurate article. Pull it please.

    July 3, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
  7. Patrick

    Your "gut check" was off. It should have said, " do liberal women make a difference on the bench?" You've completely ignored at least half of the female population-conservatives. There are no conservative women on the Supreme Court.
    Typical CNN blather.

    July 2, 2010 at 7:38 am |