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Have We Come a Long Way, Baby? The Influence of Attorney Gender on Supreme Court Decision Making

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 March 2010

John J. Szmer
University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Tammy A. Sarver
Benedictine University
Erin B. Kaheny
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee


While the impact of an attorney's sex has been examined with respect to trial court processes (e.g., jury decision making), no one has previously studied its effects on appellate court decision making. In this article, we argue that the application of gender schemas by some justices results in a devaluing of the arguments made by women litigators. Our findings suggest that women orally arguing attorneys are less likely to receive a favorable vote by a justice than are the male counsel they oppose and that conservative justices are more likely than their liberal counterparts to vote against litigants represented by female counsel at oral argument. This suggests that the ideology of elites influences whether they apply gender schemas in a negative fashion. We also find that justices are more likely to side with female lawyers in women's issues cases, indicating that the justices' perceptions of female lawyer expertise are enhanced in those cases. These findings persist even after controlling for multiple factors, including attorney expertise, the sex of the justice, amicus participation, party capability, and judicial ideology.

Research Article
Copyright © The Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2010

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