Dear Senators: the Third Circuit’s shortage of women judges is a crisis

Dear Senators Booker, Casey, Menendez, and Toomey:

Once Stephanos Bibas is confirmed, the Third Circuit will have 12 active judges: 10 men and 2 women. That gender imbalance is appalling.

Two Third Circuit openings remain — one for Pennsylvania, one for New Jersey. We do need those seats filled, because the court has a crushing case load and we need the court back up to full strength.

We need both of those seats filled by women.

Senators, this is an air-raid-siren crisis. The shortage of women judges on the Third Circuit weakens the court and undercuts its legitimacy. It undermines public confidence in the federal judiciary at a moment in history when that confidence is needed urgently. It weakens our legal system and our democracy.

Nationwide, more than a third of active circuit judges are women. That’s double — double! — the Third Circuit’s proportion. If other circuits can do it, we can too.

We have done it in the past. The Third Circuit has a proud history of service by women on the bench. As recently as 2006, the court had four active judges who were women. But all four have since taken senior status, and from 2000 to 2012 10 Third Circuit seats in a row were filled by men.

Senators, you didn’t cause this problem, but it is a problem you can fix.

Nine of the 22 sitting federal district judges for the District of New Jersey are women. Thirteen of Pennsylvania’s sitting district court judges are women. Our law school faculties and practicing bars are brimming with qualified women who would bring credit to the court.

And this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Four of President Trump’s 12 pending circuit nominees are women, right in line with the national rate. In the two most conservative circuits in the nation, the Fifth and Eleventh, 40% of the active judges — 10 of 25 — are women. Republicans are just as capable as Democrats of finding outstanding women to fill circuit judgeships.

Confirming women for both of the Third Circuit’s current openings would raise the proportion of women on our court to 4 out of 14, or about 29%. That’d still be below the national average, and way below where we should be. But it would be a meaningful step in the right direction.

The Third Circuit’s gender imbalance is a crisis. Senators, the time to fix it is now.

Respectfully yours,

Matthew Stiegler