Dearth of Women Candidates for Judgeships

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For some time now, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Monday business section has been devoted entirely to law and the legal profession. In this morning’s edition, there was an interesting article about the dearth of women candidates for judgeships on statewide courts in Pennsylvania.

The headline (“As judicial races take shape, few women are candidates”) may not be surprising, especially given the existence of organizations like Emily’s List that devote their efforts to recruiting women candidates for office. Nonetheless, it is worth relaying a few of the numbers before getting to a more interesting aspect of the article. The article reports that there are two vacancies on statewide courts this year–one on the Commonwealth Court, the other on the Superior Court. Only four women have expressed an interest in running for these judgeships, as compared to nine men. More broadly, the article reports that, since 2003, there have been fourteen statewide judicial vacancies–with 20 women and 36 men running for the seats.

What may be surprising is that the dearth of women candidates comes in the face of women’s success in actually winning these races. Of those same fourteen judicial vacancies since 2003, fully eleven were won by women.

Regarding the reasons why fewer women run for judicial office, the article says,

“They’re under-utilized,” Chris Borick, a political scientist and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, said of women candidates.

“They’ve been targeted by both major parties, because there’s a lot of untapped resources, if you will, within the ranks.” The catch, though, seems to be that women are less inclined to involve themselves with party politics, despite the strong results, Mr. Borick said.

Studies have suggested that women shy away from running for such positions because they are disinterested in the confrontational nature of politics or perceive themselves as not being qualified enough.

“This is their perception,” Mr. Borick said. “The nature of the campaigns, women find unappealing. So, they opt not to join in the race. What you often have is very capable women, for a variety of reasons, opting to never take the chance of running.”

I would be interested in hearing our readers’ thoughts about whether these explanations are sensible or whether there might be other factors at play here.

To conclude this post, it is worth noting that, contrary to the approach of Wikipedia in addressing the lack of women contributors among its ranks, both political parties seem to recognize the need to work hard at recruiting women candidates for statewide judicial office in Pennsylvania:

David E. Landau, the chair of the Delaware County Democratic Party and a partner at Duane Morris, said it’s been a struggle to find women willing to run for political office or a judicial seat.

“But it’s not for a lack of trying,” he said, noting the issue has been a topic of two recent speeches he’s delivered. “It’s something that’s been troubling me. I don’t have an explanation for it.”

Mr. Landau said both parties are searching for answers to the problem. The solution so far, it seems, is to “work harder.”

-Tony Infanti

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