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Gender and Ambition Among Potential Law Clerks

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 January 2023

Alex Badas*
Department of Political Science, University of Houston, Houston, TX, USA
Katelyn E. Stauffer
Department of Political Science, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:


Law clerks hold immense responsibilities and exert influence over the judges they work with. However, women remain underrepresented in these positions. We argue that one reason for this underrepresentation is that – like potential political candidates – female law students may have lower levels of ambition compared to men. Using a survey of student editors at thirty-three top law reviews, we find that there is a gender gap in ambition for clerkships with the Supreme Court and Federal Courts of Appeal. Examining potential sources of this difference, we find that while women view themselves to be just as qualified for these positions as men, men are more willing to apply with lower feelings of qualification. Likewise, while women and men report similar levels of encouragement, more encouragement is required before women express ambition to hold these posts. The findings presented here have implications for research on judicial politics, political ambition, and women’s representation.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Law and Courts Organized Section of the American Political Science Association

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