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Meet the Women of the U.S. Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court was founded on March 4, 1789. In its 232 year history, it wasn't until 1981 that a woman was appointed to the Supreme Court. Out of the 114 justices that have served on the U.S. Supreme Court, women only make up 3.5% of that total. 


 


According to author David O'Brien's book- Storm Center, since the 1970s and the addition of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, there has been political pressure building for decades for the appointment of women in the court. 


 


There have been empty promises to put women in court in the form of shortlists. "Qualified women are shortlisted by presidents - from Herbert Hoover to Donald Trump - to create the appearance of diversity before a (white) man is selected to preserve the status quo," states the book Shortlisted: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court. "Short-listing isn't a success but a symptom of a problem." 


 


While there's been a fair amount of discrimination from this institution, the future looks promising for women in government. Ketanji Brown Jackson, an American attorney, could make history as the first Black Woman and the 6th woman appointed to the highest court in the United States of America. In honor of this history-making moment, it is essential to recognize the five women who have the rare distinction of being able to call themselves a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. 


 


Sandra Day O'Connor 


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Sandra Day O'Connor was the 102nd justice, and the 1st woman appointed to the Supreme Court. Born on March 26, 1930, in El Paso, Texas, Sandra Day grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona, where she learned to be resilient alongside her siblings. O'Connor's father was known to be harsh with her mother. According to "First," A Sandra Day O'Connor biography written by Evan Thomas, O'Connor had to learn to be independent and "suck it up" early in her childhood. 


 


However, by watching her mother, O'Connor saw that her mother "did not take the bait. She learned how to roll with it." says Thomas. This lesson taught her the critical task of not letting men and the world at the time dominate her. 


 


After graduating from Stanford Law, O'Connor became active in Republican politics. In 1965, she served as the Assistant Attorney General for Arizona. She was then appointed to the Arizona Senate, where she won the election for a seat, making her the first woman to serve as Arizona's Majority Leader. O'Connor was also appointed to the Maricopa County Superior Court, where she served from 1975 to 1979. She was promoted to the Arizona State Court of Appeals before she was nominated as an Associate Justice for the U.S. Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan. 


 


 


Ruth Bader Ginsburg 


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Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the 107th justice and the 2nd woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Born as Joan Ruth Bader on March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, Ginsburg learned the importance of independence and a good education from her most significant influence, her mother. Growing up in a low-income, the working family was complex, but the Bader family stayed irrepressible. Celia, Ginsburg's mother, worked in a garment factory to help pay for her brother's college education even though she did not attend college. Unfortunately, Celia struggled with cancer throughout Ginsburg's high school career and died the day before her graduation. 


 


After graduating from Columbia Law School, Ginsburg clerked for U.S District Judge Edmund L. Palmieri. She was also a professor at Rutgers Law School and Columbia Law, where she became the first female tenured professor. In the 1970s, she became the director and co-founder of the Women's Right Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. Here, Ginsburg was known to advocate for gender equality and argued six cases brought before the U.S. Supreme Court.


 


 In 1980, Ginsburg was nominated by President Carter for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit. Then in 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsburg as an associate judge of the U.S. Supreme Court. 


 


 


Sonia Sotomayor


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Sonia Sotomayor is the 111th justice and 3rd woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Sotomayor was born in the Bronx, New York, on June 25, 1954. Her parents came from Puerto Rico to New York City to their three children. Like Ginsburg, Sotomayor came up in low income, working-class family with her mother working as a nurse and her father a tool-and-die worker. According to Sotomayor, she knew from an early age that she wanted to pursue a career in law by watching the Perry Mason television show. "I was going to college and becoming an attorney, and I knew that when I was ten. Ten. That's no jest." Sotomayor tells the New York Daily News. 


 


After graduating from Yale Law School and passing the bar exam in 1980, Sotomayor started her work as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. She moved onto a private practice for a commercial litigation firm, becoming a partner in 1988. While working as a partner, she also was on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York Curt Campaign Finance Board, and the State of New York Mortgage Agency. Due to her work, In 1992, she was nominated by President George H.W. Bush as U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York City.


 


 In 1997, Sotomayor was nominated by President Clinton for the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In May of 2009, President Obama nominated Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court justice. In August, her final confirmation made her the first Latina Supreme Court justice in U.S. history. 


 


Elena Kagan 


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Elena Kagan is the 112th justice and the 4th woman to serve in the U.S. Supreme Court. Born on April 28, 1960, in the Upper West Side of New York City, they grew up in a Jewish, middle-class family. The importance of education was instilled into Kagan at a young age as her mother was a teacher. "It was a very cool thing to be a smart girl," Kagan says about her high school experience at an all-girls school. "I think that made a great deal of difference to me growing up and in my life afterward." 


 


In 1986, Kagan graduated from Harvard Law School. After Kagan began job clerking for the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. Circuit. In 1988, she continued clerking, but this time for Justice Thurgood Marshall. In 1991, she decided to begin teaching as a law professor at the University of Chicago Law School. She soon had to leave her tenured position as she began to work for President Clinton as an associate counsel.


 


 Kagan worked at the White House for four years, being promoted several times before returning to higher education at Harvard Law. She started as a visiting professor in 1999, and by 2003, she was the Dean of Harvard Law for five years. In 2009, Kagan was selected by President Obama for the position of solicitor general. She was the first woman to be appointed as solicitor general of the United States. After a year, Kagan was nominated by President Obama to be an Associate Justice for the U.S. Supreme Court. 


 


Amy Coney Barrett


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Amy Coney Barrett is the 115th and the 5th woman to serve the U.S. Supreme Court. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on January 28, 1972, Barrett was raised in a wealthy suburban community of New Orleans as the oldest of seven children. She and her siblings were raised as devout Roman Catholics and belonged to the People of Praise, an organization that supported Christian communities. 


 


After graduating from Notre Dame Law, Barrett clerked at the United States Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit for Judge Laurence Silberman, then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Before leaving, Barrett joined the D.C law firm to return to higher education at George Washington University Law School. In 2002, she returned to Notre Dame as an assistant professor, and by 2017 she was a full-tenured professor of law. In 2017, she was nominated by President Trump for a position in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.


 


In 2020, President Trump again nominated Barrett as an Associate Justice for the U.S. Supreme Court. 


 


 


 


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