March is Women’s History Month, which affords us the opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come in this country, and how far we have yet to go. And in many respects, recent events in the Congress illustrate both themes. For example, the last day of February, the Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, with even stronger protections for Native American, immigrant, and LGBT women. Yet it was a long and hard-fought battle, despite this law’s proven effectiveness is combating domestic violence and the overwhelming bipartisan support the law has enjoyed over time.
Another example? Diversity on our federal courts. President Obama’s Administration has nominated more women and people of color for judgeships than any previous Administration in history. President Obama already has appointed more minority women judges than President Bush or President Clinton. As a result, the percentage of active women judges on the federal bench has increased from slightly above 25% to over 30% since 2009. For the first time in history, moreover, three women serve on the Supreme Court at one time. And of course, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s first nominee to the Supreme Court, became the first Hispanic to sit on the highest court in the land.
Yet, 17 highly qualified women who have been nominated to federal judgeships are waiting for a confirmation vote from the U.S. Senate. Some of these nominees have been waiting for months — if not years. For example, Caitlin Halligan, an outstanding nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals to the District of Columbia Circuit, was first nominated in September 2010 — to a seat that has been vacant since 2005 — and still a determined minority in the Senate persists in refusing to allow an up-or-down vote on her nomination. Patty Shwartz, nominated to a New Jersey-based seat on the Third Circuit, has been waiting for a confirmation vote for almost a year. Despite historically high levels of judicial vacancies and the critical need for a federal bench that more closely resembles our diverse citizenry, women around the country continue to wait for justice.
The quality of justice in this nation depends on increasing the diversity of the federal bench in a number of important ways – including gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and also legal experience. So here’s an idea: to celebrate Women’s History Month, in addition to speeches, and proclamations, and appropriately honoring the progress that has been made to date, let’s urge the Senate to invest in the future. We urge the Senate minority to abandon the ruthless obstruction of judicial nominations, so that these excellent nominees may get to work in courts around the country that desperately await their talents.