The Jurisprudence of the First Woman Judge, Florence Allen: Challenging the Myth of Women Judging Differently
27 William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender & Social Justice 293 (2021)
58 Pages Posted: 28 Jul 2020 Last revised: 15 Jun 2021
Date Written: July 2, 2020
A key question for legal scholars and political scientists is whether women jurists judge differently than men. Some studies have suggested that women judges are more likely to support plaintiffs in sexual harassment, employment, and immigration cases. Other studies conclude that women are more likely to vote liberally in death penalty and obscenity cases, and more likely to convince their male colleagues to join a liberal opinion. Yet other studies have found little evidence that women judge differently from men.
This article explores the jurisprudence of the first woman judge, Judge Florence Allen, to test these claims of gender difference in judging. Judge Allen was the first woman judge many times over: the first woman elected to a general trial court (Cuyahoga County Common Pleas in 1920), the first woman elected to a state supreme court (Ohio 1922), the first woman appointed to a federal appellate court (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in 1932), and the first woman shortlisted for the U.S. Supreme Court. Her forty years on the bench included cases of constitutional law, administrative power, criminal process, labor rights, and patent cases. Using original archival research, this Article shows that Allen's judicial record supports the conclusion that women judge no differently from men. However, Allen worked hard to cultivate this conclusion, seeking to distance herself from claims of women’s difference and inferiority, and instead seeking to establish that women could “think like a man.” Her deliberate effort was to judge in a moderate, neutral, and objective manner, distancing the work from her feminist activism. Overall the historical record reveals the jurisprudence of the first woman judge as one of moderation, fitted to the male-centric norms of the profession and rejecting any promise of women’s advocacy on the bench.
Keywords: judging, federal courts, women's rights, constitutional law, jurisprudence
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