June 5th, 2009

There was an interesting article in the Times the other day by Neil A. Lewis re whether female judges judge differently from male ones. The issue has come up not only because of the Supreme Court nomination of  Sonia SotomayOR (I’m emphasizing the last syllable in the way it’s meant to be pronounced because the National Review called the pronounciation “un-American”), but also in re the Savana Redding case. Savana Redding is a 13 year-old girl who was strip searched at her school on suspicion of harboring ibuprofen pills. Some of Ruth Ginsburg’s eight male colleagues on the Supreme Court said they weren’t troubled by the search–Judge Thomas laughed heartily while telling of a locker room incident in which “things” were stuck in his underwear–but Ginsburg countered that 13 is a very sensitive age for a girl, and added that Redding had been directed to stretch out her bra and underpants for inspection.

Although I’d like to think that judgement and wisdom are, or should be, gender-neutral, certain instances suggest otherwise. Justice Ginsburg recently told USA Today that her comments are sometimes ignored in the justices’ private conferences until someone else–a man–made the same point. A recent study of male and female judges found that, while gender played no role in the rulings on cases involving disability law, environmental issues, and capital punishment, it did in sex discrimination cases, in which female judges were more likely to decide in favor of the plaintiffs.

In the end, not to get all NPR on you, but I guess we can’t really generalize on the “Do women judge differently?” front. Each individual rules differently–which is why diversity is king. Or should be.  SotomayOR.