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Change I Can Believe In: Obama Nominates Kagan to the High Court

This evening brought the news that President Obama will nominate Solicitor General Elena Kagan to fill Justice Stevens' seat on the Supreme Court.  As dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan was an enthusiastic supporter of Ms. JD, so this is a source of excitement on many levels. 

Mostly Kagan's nomination to serve as one of three women on the Court is exciting because it represents the breaking of a particularly pernicious glass ceiling: the ascension of a critical mass of women to positions of leadership in the profession.

For 20 years women have enjoyed relative parity in law school admissions, but there has been virtually no change in the percentage of female partners, general counsels,  attorneys general, judges, or tenured faculty.  In each sector of the profession the number of women in leadership hovers on one side or the other of 20% with little movement in the last decade.

20%. It's more than tokenism. But not enough to effect real change in the experience of the women in the pipeline.  For example:

  • I graduated from UCLA School of Law in 2007. At the time, almost 25% of the faculty were women.  But I had only 2 female professors in three years.  One was gone by the time I graduated the other was denied tenure a couple years later.  
  • AmLaw100 firms have had more than 15% female partners for more than 10 years. But this year those same firms reported to NAWL that less than 6% of their "rainmakers" are women.
  • What happens when there's no where for the pipeline to go? The pipeline dries up. For 20 years women's progress in law has stagnated. And, perhaps as a result, for 7 years the number and proportion of women attending law school has declined.

This moment may be our last best chance to recharge the movement of women into positions of power in the profession. I can think of no better way to inspire that kind of commitment to excellence and achievement than putting a third woman on the Court.

 

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