Reconsidering the Remedy of Gender Quotas

Harvard Journal of Law & Gender Online (Nov. 2016)

28 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2016 Last revised: 17 Oct 2017

See all articles by Tracy A. Thomas

Tracy A. Thomas

University of Akron School of Law

Date Written: June 13, 2016


When newly-elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked by surprised reporters why he appointed women as fifty percent of his new cabinet, he responded simply, “Because it’s 2015.” Just because. Because it’s time. In fact, he suggested, it is long past time for having to justify including women as one-half of the power structure when women constitute one-half of the population. And it’s time for meaningful change in shared governance by something as pragmatically simple as selecting fifteen women and fifteen men for appointments.

Similarly, it is long past time for justifying the need to reform American institutions that exclude women from the power structure. Rather than stumbling along the path of continued sex discrimination by the ineffective application of judicial band-aids to systemic problems, it is time for alteration of the power structure itself. It’s time for the law to endorse the equal representation of women in all power venues in order to remedy — permanently — longstanding and resistant, systemic sex discrimination. And the way to get there might be quotas.

“Quota” is a dirty word. In U.S law and society, we are “quota-phobic,” vehemently resisting an idea alleged to be based on political correctness in place of merit. Quotas, however, offer a powerful systemic remedy that can reach entrenched bias and provide meaningful and tangible change - virtually overnight as Trudeau's cabinet decision shows. This article first demonstrates the longstanding ineffectiveness of other remedies for systemic sex discrimination and the power quotas potentially offer. It then discusses the use of gender quotas for European corporate boards, academic advisory boards, and political representations to show the viability of gender quotas as a legal solution. Finally, it concludes that gender quotas as a judicially-imposed remedy would survive constitutional scrutiny under the Supreme Court's existing intermediate scrutiny standard.

Keywords: law, gender, remedies

Suggested Citation

Thomas, Tracy A., Reconsidering the Remedy of Gender Quotas (June 13, 2016). Harvard Journal of Law & Gender Online (Nov. 2016). Available at SSRN:

Tracy A. Thomas (Contact Author)

University of Akron School of Law ( email )

150 University Ave.
Akron, OH 44325-2901
United States
330-972-6617 (Phone)
330-258-2343 (Fax)

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