Skip Navigation
Newsletter

Fair Courts E-Lert: Sotomayor Speaks Out on Interruptions of Female Justices, Professional Diversity on SCOTUS

This Fair Courts E-Lert highlights Justice Sotomayor’s comments on SCOTUS, responses from Democratic lawmakers and the federal judiciary to a WSJ investigation about federal judges’ ethics violations, and more.

Published: October 22, 2021

Soto­mayor Speaks Out on Inter­rup­tions of Female Justices, Profes­sional Diversity on SCOTUS

On Octo­ber 13, Justice Sonya Soto­mayor, speak­ing at a virtual event, said that the U.S. Supreme Court’s new format for argu­ments – in which the justices freely ask ques­tions, but after an attor­ney’s time has expired, each justice may ask ques­tions unin­ter­rup­ted in order of seni­or­ity– was adop­ted in part because of stud­ies show­ing female justices were being inter­rup­ted at higher rates than their male coun­ter­parts.

Soto­mayor said the stud­ies, includ­ing one published by Tonja Jacobi and Dylan Schweers in 2017, have had an “enorm­ous impact” and led to Chief Justice John Roberts being “much more sens­it­ive” to justices being inter­rup­ted or at least to play­ing referee if neces­sary.

At the same event, Soto­mayor also remarked that profes­sional diversity is “sorely miss­ing” on the Court, noting that when Justice Ruth Bader Gins­berg passed away, “we lost our only civil rights lawyer.” She also noted that none of the justices have signi­fic­ant exper­i­ence with civil rights, crim­inal defense, immig­ra­tion, or envir­on­mental law, saying “I do worry that the author­it­ies who are select­ing judges are not paying enough atten­tion to that kind of diversity as well.”

Demo­cratic Lawmakers Ask Chief Justice How He Plans to Respond to WSJ Invest­ig­a­tion

On Octo­ber 14, Sen. Eliza­beth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Pram­ila Jayapal (D-WA) sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts asking how he plans to respond to the Wall Street Journal’s invest­ig­a­tion that found 131 federal judges failed to step aside from cases in which they had a finan­cial conflict.

In their letter, the lawmakers ques­tioned whether Roberts has done enough as head of the federal judi­ciary to enforce ethics rules. They also noted recent instances in which the justices have failed to disqual­ify them­selves from cases despite having a finan­cial conflict.

Warren and Jayapal also high­lighted their proposed legis­la­tion, which would bar federal judges from owning indi­vidual stocks and require their finan­cial disclos­ure reports to be posted online, among other things. They also asked whether the justices would commit to adopt­ing a code of conduct and disqual­i­fy­ing them­selves from cases in which they had a finan­cial conflict.

The day before, the director of the Admin­is­trat­ive Office of the U.S. Courts sent a memo to all federal judges announ­cing a review of the judi­ciary’s conflict screen­ing proced­ures.

Ohio Supreme Court Creates Crim­inal Senten­cing Data­base

On Octo­ber 4, the Ohio Supreme Court announced it is part­ner­ing with the Univer­sity of Cincin­nati to build a data­base of crim­inal sentences issued by trial judges across the state, making Ohio the first state to have such a data­base, accord­ing to Clev­e­land.com.

The data­base will allow the public to determ­ine whether certain demo­graphic back­grounds in the state are receiv­ing harsher sentences than others for the same crimes. The data­base will not allow users to exam­ine the senten­cing records of indi­vidual judges; however, some counties, such as Cuyahoga County, already provide this inform­a­tion.

Out of the 244 trial judges in Ohio, 34 have agreed to parti­cip­ate, with more sign­ing up each day, accord­ing to Clev­e­land.com.

Last year, Chief Justice Maur­een O’Con­nor told the Colum­bus Dispatch that the data­base would strengthen public confid­ence in the courts: “For the public to be informed — and for truth to win out over rumor and fiction — they must be able to see equal justice for all and under­stand how it is meas­ured.”