How Do We Get More Female-Friendly Courts? Appoint More Judges Who Have Daughters

If we want there to be more feminist courtroom rulings, we just need to appoint more judges with daughters. Apparently, it really is that simple.

A recent study on judicial empathy found that “judges with daughters consistently vote in a more feminist fashion on gender issues than judges who have only sons.” While this may sound like a fairly intuitive finding, this represents a radical shift from previous scholarly debate about judge’s rulings, which tends to focus on how law and ideology influence decision-making. Now we can apparently look to a third factor, personal experience, to explain how judges decide cases.

The study, which considered around 2,500 votes made by over 200 federal court judges, found that “having at least one daughter corresponds to a 7 percent increase in the proportion of cases in which a judge will vote in a feminist direction.” Adding a second or third daughter doesn’t make a difference to these figures, but the amount that a daughter influences a judge's rulings increases greatly when the judge has just one child.

So, how exactly does this "daughters effect" work? Interestingly, the study dismissed the idea that judges voted in this way in order to protect their daughters from harm. The authors ruled out this explanation because liberal voting trends only appeared in civil cases but not criminal ones, meaning judges voted for laws that protected their daughters from issues like workplace discrimination but not, say, rape or sexual assault. Evidently, the liberalizing effect of daughters is complex.

An alternate explanation the study offered was learning. As one of the authors, Maya Sen, told the New York Times: “By having at least one daughter, judges learn about what it’s like to be a woman, perhaps a young woman, who might have to deal with issues like equity in terms of pay, university admissions, or taking care of children.”

I’m not convinced that judges — at least, male judges — can learn “what it’s like to be a woman,” just by living with one, but they could certainly become more attuned to issues that affect women, and learn to cultivate empathy. With that in mind, one could infer that other life experiences are also likely to sway judges rulings, like their personal involvement with adoption, homosexuality, or the military.

So, here’s to hoping we see more judges with daughters in the court room….or with adopted homosexual daughters.