The Supreme Court today quietly helped shatter a glass ceiling you may not have known existed by appointing the first female special master in the Supreme Court's history. She's Kristin Linsley Myles of San Francisco, litigation partner in the firm Munger, Tolles & Olson and a former law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia. Myles could not be reached for comment.
She was named special master in the case of South Carolina v. North Carolina, which comes to the Court under its original jurisdiction. That little-known category of cases involves disputes between states, in which the dispute goes to the Supreme Court first, not last, and without the factfinding or review of any lower court. As a result, the Court appoints a special master to review facts, hear testimony, and report to the Court with recommendations, which the justices accept, reject or modify. The Court has been naming special masters since 1791.
It's an important but not high-profile job that used to go primarily to retired or senior federal judges. But with more senior judges taking on heavy caseloads in their former courts, the high court has turned to private attorneys or law professors all male, until today. A 2002 University of Minnesota Law Review article on the role of the special master, entitled "Lurking in the Shadow of the Judicial Process," took the Court to task for the dearth of women or minorities in the ranks of special masters. (The late former solicitor general Wade McCree is the only African-American special master in history, according to the article.)
South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster filed the complaint that is now before the Court, describing it as a "water war" on his web site. He asserts that North Carolina is taking more than its fair share of water from the Catawba River, which begins in North Carolina and flows into South Carolina. The river, says McMaster, is essential to economic development, recreation and hydroelectric power in his state.