They’re In Your Court: Women in the judiciary

by Judge Steve Halsey

If I was to ask you to name a woman judge, I expect most of you would say “Judge Judy.” But Judith Sheindlin is an entertainer, not a real judge. If I were to ask you to name another woman judge, who could you name? I would hope some of you would name at least one of these justices or judges:

U.S. Supreme Court Justices:  Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan.

Minnesota Supreme Court Justices: Lorie Skjerven Gildea (Chief Justice), Wilhemina Wright.

Just as the percentage of women in American law schools has increased substantially in the past 40 years (7 percent in 1970 to 47 percent in 2010) the percentage of women judges in Minnesota has also substantially increased. If you are reading this article you likely reside in one of the eight counties in the Tenth Judicial District:  Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Pine, Sherburne, Washington and Wright. I am chambered in Buffalo in Wright County where we have two male judges and four female judges, quite a change from 2002 when I was appointed and joined three other male judges in Buffalo. In the Tenth Judicial District, these are the changes over the past two decades:

1994-2003: 11 male judges and eight female judges appointed (1 female judge elected).

2004-2013: 14 male judges and eight female judges appointed (2 male judges elected).

2014: Of 45 sitting judges, 26 males (58 percent) and 19 females (42 percent).

In the July 14, 2014 issue of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune the following statistics were stated, indicating the gender and racial makeup of judicial applicants and appointees:

Since 2011, Governor Dayton has appointed 76 new judges to fill vacancies in Minnesota’s 10 judicial districts, the state Court of Appeals and Minnesota Supreme Court. . . .

In other numbers, Dayton increased the number of women judges in greater Minnesota by 36 percent, and increased diversity in Hennepin County, the state’s busiest judicial district, by 86 percent.

In other numbers:

1,490 applications were filed for 86 judicial vacancies during Dayton’s term so far. Of them:

• 839 were male.

• 483 were female.

• 1,146 were white.

• 47 were black.

• 36 were Latino.

• 23 were Asian/Pacific Islander.

• 13 were American Indian.

• 57 did not disclose.

Of those applications, 211 finalists were chosen by the Judicial Selection Committee for Dayton’s consideration for appointment.  Of those finalists:

• 120 were male.

• 91 were female.

• 177 were white.

• 14 were black.

• 13 were Latino.

• Four were American Indian.

• Three were Asian/Pacific Islander.

Just as each juror brings their own values and life experiences to a trial, each judge brings his or her own education, legal experience and life experiences to the bench. I am certainly not going to express any opinions on whether men and women judges differ, in general, in how they perform their judicial duties.

I am just fortunate to preside in Wright County with five smart and hard-working judges, 4 of whom are women.  You can learn more about the judges in your judicial district by going to www.mncourts.gov (look for “Meet Your Judges” in the right margin).

up arrow