Supreme Court Sidebar: Women of the Court

Of the 7,000 cases appealed to the United States Supreme Court each year, the nine Justices hear approximately 80 cases and decide another 50 without oral argument. Each year more than the last, the cases before the United States Supreme Court are argued by women attorneys, brought by women plaintiffs, defended by women defendants, and decided by women justices.  

The focus of this column throughout 2014 will be to highlight the women of the United States Supreme Court: the practioners, the parties, the justices. It will also highlight specific cases that will be argued and decided by the United States Supreme Court this term that relate to issues specifically important to women. 

In the last United States Supreme Court term (beginning in October 2012 and ending in June 2013) the Court issued 73 written merit opinions, 25 of those were authored by female justices. Justice Ginsburg wrote the most majority opinions of any of the justices, authoring a total of 9 majority opinions. 

Ten years ago, the Court still authored approximately the same number of majority opinions each year, for example 75 in the October 2002 session. However, in that session Justices Ginsburg and O’Connor authored only 15 of the majority opinions. 

Fifty years ago, of course, no majority opinions or any other type of opinions were authored by any women at all. Justice O’Connor wrote her first majority opinion in 1981 (Watt v Energy Action Educational Foundation). 

While Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan are certainly making their mark in the United States Supreme Court universe, women advocates are also making serious strides in offering their talents to numerous oral arguments. 

Six women argued three different times in front of the Court this session. Lisa S. Blatt is the only private counsel to make the list, while five female counsel represented the Solicitor General’s Office, including Ginger D. Anders, Sarah E. Harrington, Ann O’Connell, Nicole A. Saharsky and Melissa A. Sherry. 

Just two years ago, the number of women who argued before the Supreme Court three times in one session was just one: Nicole A. Saharsky for the Solicitor General’s Office. 

In addition to the onslaught of female attorneys gracing the halls of 1 First Street, the cases being argued and heard are addressing issues specifically important to woman at an increasing rate. 

In the upcoming term alone, the nine Justices will address reproductive rights (Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice) and the ability of women to get competent medical care free of harassment by protestors outside (McCullen v. Coakley). They will hear arguments regarding an amendment to the Michigan Constitution that prohibited race and gender based affirmative action at public universities (Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action). And the Court will not stop there with hot button topics, hearing cases on fair housing (Mount Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action) and age discrimination (Madigan v. Levin). 

Throughout the year, this column will seek to inform and comment on the women participating in litigation at the highest appellate level of the nation and the cases that directly impact many women. The goal of the column is to inform Ms. JD readers of the cases impacted by women and important to women. 

“We don't accomplish anything in this world alone... and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one's life and all the weavings of individual threads form one to another that creates something.” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Statistics from SCOTUS Blog.


Supreme Court Sidebar is written by Rebecca Prybell, a 3L law student at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and 2013-2014 Ms. JD Fellow. 

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