Women Interrupted: Female Supreme Court Justices Interrupted More Than Male Supreme Court Justices

Author: Po Waghalter

Guest Editor: Cinnamon J. Carr

August 3, 2020 11:26am

Recent studies show that female Supreme Court Justices are significantly interrupted more than their male counterparts. Indeed, even in the time of a global pandemic, women’s issues remain at the forefront, as evidenced in the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent telephonic hearings.

For the first time in May 2020, the Supreme Court held telephonic hearings. In a study of these hearings by Leah Litman, assistant professor at University of Michigan, it was unsurprisingly confirmed that women indeed received less favorable treatment than men. Specifically, female Justices were “interrupted significantly more often than their male colleagues and were given less overall speaking time” as indicated in a Law360 article[1] by Hailey Konnath, referencing professor Litman’s study. This is unsurprising as, in a 2016 article[2] in Law360 referencing a report by Adam Feldman, a doctoral candidate at University of Southern California, it was reported that Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayer and Elena Kagan were interrupted twice as often as the other six male Justices. Indeed, sexism remains, and even female Justices on the highest bench of the nation, are not immune to likely unintentional biases.

In light of the above, it goes without saying that women in the legal field – and other male-dominated fields – simply face more challenges than their male colleagues when it comes to simply doing their jobs. (See all articles in our Women’s Initiative section[3].) Anecdotal evidence shows that female attorneys have likely been mistaken as the Court Reporter at every deposition early in their careers, interrupted more often, cut short more often, and disrespected more often by male opposing counsel – and sometimes judges – than male attorneys.

Such articles and examples are valuable in highlighting continual issues in society for women that have yet to be improved; however, they may be discouraging to women seeking to enter or are new to the legal field. For this reason, the importance of supporting women navigating through these realities remain. At Tyson Mendes, female attorneys are blessed with resources when it comes to female mentors, role models, and colleagues.

Indeed, the Los Angeles Tyson Mendes office is comprised of significantly more women than men, including attorneys and staff. The entire national firm has a nearly equal proportion of male and female attorneys – an encouraging statistic for the legal field in general, considering the national average of 38%, according to the US Census [4]. Very recently, Tyson Mendes achieved parity in equity partnership between men and women, with the addition of attorney Partners Cayce Lynch and Susan Oliver. Of the four Los Angeles Partners, two are female- Kara Pape and Michelle Campbell. The presence and availability of these women role models and mentors are invaluable to the legal field, and especially the progress of women in this high stakes, male-dominated field.

While the state of the world is in a perpetual “to be determined” status and progress toward a vaccine is still unknown, we have at the very least, made some progress in the representation of women in the legal field, and hopefully will make progress in our treatment of female Justices, lest Law360 publish yet another unsurprising article about women being more significantly interrupted than men in the next few years. And here’s to hoping we will be vaccinated and enjoying time with family and friends again by then in person, and not through Zoom.


[1] https://www.law360.com/articles/1275656

[2] https://www.law360.com/articles/801733/justices-sotomayor-and-kagan-interrupted-most-report-finds

[3] https://www.tysonmendes.com/tag/womens-initiative/

[4] United States Census Bureau, January 18, 2019.


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