The percentage of women state court judges inched up this year, according to data reported by the Center for Women in Government & Civil Society at the State University of New York-Albany.
At last count, women occupied 27.5 percent of state court judgeships, up slightly from 26.8 percent in 2011. By contrast, the percentage of women on the federal bench declined by 0.1 percent, to 24.1 percent.
Altogether, women comprised 27.1 percent of state and federal judges — an increase of 0.5 percent over 2011 and a 1.1 percent jump compared with 2010.
“This is both good news and bad news,” center director Dina Refki said in unveiling the figures. “The good news is that there is movement, at least at the state level. But the bad news is that the rate of change is so slow — and, in the case of the federal benches, we are experiencing a setback.”
The center said it based its findings on the Forster-Long 2012 edition of The American Bench, a reference book containing biographies of judges.
Representation of women on both the state and federal bench was highest in the Northwest, where 30.4 percent of judges were women — a 3.3 percent increase compared with the previous year. The Northeast was close behind, with women accounting for 30 percent of all judges. The Midwest had the lowest combined percentage of women judges, at 24.6 percent.
The center, a think tank associated with the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy, assigned states into tiers, depending on their percentage of women in state and federal judgeships. Thirteen states had 19 percent or fewer; 24 states fell between 20 and 29 percent; and 13 states plus the District of Columbia had upward of 30 percent women on their state and federal benches.
Montana had the highest percentage of women judges, at 40.3 percent, while Idaho had the lowest at 11.3 percent.
The center advocates for gender parity on the state and federal courts, arguing that gender and racial inclusion inspires trust in the legal system and that women bring different perspectives to the bench.
“If women are graduating from law schools at the same rate as men, and if there is a pool of qualified women who are ready to serve, there is no explanation for the unbalanced representation on the bench,” Refki said.
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org.