Women Float Names for O'Connor's Seat

Human Rights

With John Roberts a virtual shoo-in as the next chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, many observers of the High Court are now turning their attention to a question of greater suspense: Who will President Bush name to replace the first woman ever to serve, the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor?

O'Connor played a crucial role of consensus builder, and many times her vote determined cases of intense concern to women and minority men. Thus, her replacement will be key to whether the court will preserve and even expand a wide spectrum of precedents, ranging from legal abortions to affirmative action.

Most women's rights leaders contacted by Women's eNews said they considered it quite possible that Bush will nominate a woman to succeed O'Connor. Martha Burke, chair of the National Council of Women's Organizations, put the odds at 50-50. Burke doubted, however, that such a female nominee would come with a similar legal profile as O'Connor. "The chance of another moderate woman replacing her is fairly low," Burke said.

The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Chicago Sun-Times have all reported recently on rumors that several female judges with strong conservative leanings might be under consideration for O'Connor's seat.

They include federal appellate judges Priscilla Owen, Edith Clement and Edith Jones; all sitting on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Other possibilities include Judge Karen Williams of the 4th Circuit; Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia; and Michigan state Supreme Court Justice Maura Corrigan.

Some believe these lists ignore a significant cadre of other potential nominees. Drucilla Stender Ramey, president of the bipartisan National Association of Women Judges in Washington, says that Bush could select from a long list of highly experienced female judges with moderate views to name a woman to the Supreme Court. "While the president obviously has the right to appoint someone of quite a different stripe than his predecessor, the current president has a large field of extremely capable, experienced women judges who would fit the description."

Below are brief biographies of those mentioned by Stender Ramey, leaders of women's bar associations, advocacy organizations and others watching the process.

Judge Ruth McGregor
McGregor is currently chief justice for the Arizona Supreme Court. Helen Perry Grimwood, president of the State Bar of Arizona, said that McGregor is known for being "fair, impartial and judicious." After graduating first in her class from the Arizona State University College of Law, she was the first woman to be hired by Fennemore Craig, a major Arizona law firm. When O'Connor joined the Supreme Court, she chose McGregor to be her first law clerk there. Like O'Connor before her, McGregor also sat on the Arizona Court of Appeals. Of McGregor, Roxie Bacon, a past president of the State Bar of Arizona, said: "If you're looking for someone who will advance an ideology, she hasn't done that, she doesn't do that and she won't do that."

Judge Carolyn King

President Jimmy Carter appointed King to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1979, where she was the first woman to serve on that court and today is its first female chief judge. The court is considered conservative. King is the first woman to chair the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the self-governing body of the federal courts system, a position she holds currently. The Washington-based National Association of Women Judges reports that over half of King's law clerks are women and she has been instrumental in the appointment of judgeships to women. The American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession awarded King its prestigious 2005 Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, given annually to outstanding women lawyers who have paved the way to success for other female attorneys.

Judge Mary Schroeder

President Jimmy Carter appointed Schroeder to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in 1979, where she was the first woman to serve on that court. It is the nation's largest circuit court and is considered its most liberal. One of six women in her law school class at the University of Chicago, Schroeder was the first woman to be hired by the major Arizona law firm of Lewis and Roca. Like Sandra Day O'Connor the year before her, in 2001 Schroeder was awarded with the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award. Among her notable cases is Hirabayashi v. United States (1987) in which she declared the Japanese internment during World War II unconstitutional and overturned the 1943 conviction of Gordon K. Hirabayashi, a college student who was prosecuted for violating a curfew and relocation order.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor

Democratic leaders recently put forth Sotomayor's name on a list of moderate judges they hope President Bush will consider appointing to O'Connor's seat. President George H.W. Bush appointed the Bronx native to federal district court in 1991, and she was the first Hispanic American to serve as a judge in New York's Southern District. In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed her to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Among Sotomayor's noteworthy decisions was an injunction issued to prevent Major League Baseball owners from establishing new work rules when a collective bargaining agreement with the baseball players' union could not be reached.

USA Today reported that in 1992 Sotomayor ordered the government to release a photocopy of a torn-up note found in the briefcase of a former White House lawyer who committed suicide, reasoning that the public interest dwarfed the family's privacy concerns.

"Judge Sotomayor has demonstrated an extraordinary intellect and devotion to the law," said Andrea Phoenix, president of the Women's Bar Association of the State of New York, which backed Sotomayor during her bid for a seat on the federal appeals court in 1998. "Like Justice O'Connor, Judge Sotomayor addresses the facts of the individual cases before her and is careful to tailor her opinions to those facts."

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