In the 1960s, when I graduated from law school, women comprised only 1 to 2 percent of the legal profession nationally; among the judiciary, their numbers were the same — 1 to 2 percent. In 1991, when I was appointed to the First District Court of Appeal and thus became the only woman among its 19 members, the six court of appeal districts in California had 88 justices, of whom 10 — or 11 percent — were women. Today the numbers have almost doubled; women judges in California comprise approximately 20 percent of the trial bench and 21 percent of the appellate bench. And the California Supreme Court counts three women among its seven members.

With the appointment in 1981 of Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court — at the time a remarkable and much heralded event — legal theorists began to speculate as to what the impact of women on the bench might be. Drawing on the influential work of psychologist Carol Gilligan, author of In a Different Voice, and legal scholar Suzanna Sherry, author of Civic Virtue and the Feminine Voice in Constitutional Adjudication, scholars advanced the theory that women judges would bring to the task of decision making a different perspective and a different “voice.” Women jurists, they postulated, would have a discernible impact on the law by virtue of their gender.

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