President Barack Obama has far surpassed any president when it comes to placing women judges on the federal bench during a single term, and now the White House is heralding another milestone.
With a confirmation of a woman to the District Court of the Southern District of Iowa late Monday afternoon, Obama had confirmed as many women to the federal bench in his first term—72—than George W. Bush did in his two terms in office, a White House spokesman said in an email to media.
And Stephanie Rose's confirmation Monday made her the first woman district judge to serve in that Iowa district — "the sixth time that President Obama has broken this particular glass ceiling,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz wrote.
Obama became the president to appoint the most women judges in a single term with a confirmation in March, the White House said. President Bill Clinton had 61 women confirmed in his first term and 50 during his second, meaning he has appointed the most women to the bench overall at 111. George W. Bush had 43 in his first term and 29 in his second term.
Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, said the addition of more women judges increases the quality of justice. Many studies have shown that having a diverse bench enhances the way judges, both male and female, see how potential interpretations of the law can affect people in real life, she said.
Greenberger said Obama’s nominations of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court had high public visibility, and can give the public increased confidence in the judicial system.
"The public can see the judiciary reflects who they are in the population, and I also think because judges are a part of their communities and will often appear in public schools, and law schools, and career discussions with young girls, that it has a ripple effect that goes far beyond the nature of the courts alone," Greenberger said.
Currently, 51 of the 165 active courts of appeal judges are women, as well as 187 of the 614 active district court judges, according to statistics kept by the law center. That means about three out of 10 federal judges are women.
While Obama's presidency has set a new standard, that doesn't mean future presidents will automatically appoint more women as well, Greenberger said. "I hope it's permanent but I think there can be ebbs and flows," she said.
The White House noted that Obama also has appointed a more diverse bench than Bush in other ways. Obama appointed more minority women as federal judges than President George W. Bush (29 to 22); more African Americans (31 to 26), including more African American circuit court judges (eight to six); and more Asian Pacific American circuit court judges (two to zero).
Obama also has appointed more Hispanic circuit court judges than Bush (four to three), as well as three openly gay judges, compared to none for Bush.