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Obama Appoints Record Number Of Women Judges To Federal Bench

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President Obama has has more women confirmed to the federal bench in one term than any other president. He has also put two women -- Elena Kagan, pictured here, and Sonia Sotomayor -- on the Supreme Court. (Photo credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
President Obama has has more women confirmed to the federal bench in one term than any other president. He has also put two women -- Elena Kagan, pictured here, and Sonia Sotomayor -- on the Supreme Court. (Photo credit: PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- With the confirmation of Stephanie Rose as a U.S. district court judge on Monday, President Barack Obama has put 72 women on the federal bench -- the most ever appointed by a president in one term. It also ties the number former President George W. Bush had confirmed in his entire eight-year presidency, according to numbers provided by the White House.

In an 89-1 vote, the U.S. Senate voted to approve Rose as a judge in the Southern District of Iowa. She is the first woman to ever serve on this court, and it's the sixth time that Obama has put a woman on the bench for the first time in various courtrooms.

Former President Bill Clinton had the most female judges confirmed during his entire presidency -- 111 -- but just 61 of them were appointed in his first term.

Beyond women on the bench, Obama has had a remarkably strong record on diversifying the federal judiciary. The AP reported last year that Obama is "the first president who hasn't selected a majority of white males for lifetime judgeships."

Obama has had 29 minority women confirmed to the federal bench, compared to 22 during Bush's presidency. He has also had 31 African-American federal judges confirmed, compared to 26 for Bush. Three openly gay judges have been confirmed as federal judges under Obama; there were zero confirmed during Bush's term.

"At this time, it's beyond dispute that having a diverse set of judges improves the quality of justice for everybody," said Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center. "And that is certainly true for having women on the bench as well as men. A woman's perspective can enrich the way women understand the practicalities of the application of legal issues to real life."

Greenberger pointed to the effect that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had in the 2003 case of Arizona student Savana Redding, whose mother sued the school after after a nurse and an administrative aide strip-searched her to see if she had unauthorized prescription-strength ibuprofen on her.

During oral arguments, Justice Stephen Breyer -- who was also nominated by former President Bill Clinton -- said he didn't understand why Redding believed her rights had been violated, since children also change together in locker rooms.

Ginsburg, the only woman on the court at the time, responded by letting her male colleagues know how traumatic it could be for a young woman to undergo such an experience.

"Maybe a 13-year-old boy in a locker room doesn't have that same feeling about his body," said Ginsburg. "But a girl who's just at the age where she is developing, whether she has developed a lot … or … has not developed at all (might be) embarrassed about that."

As Charlie Savage of The New York Times noted last month, Obama has lagged in his judicial nominations and is "set to end his first term with dozens fewer lower-court appointments than both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush achieved in their first four years."

While Greg Craig, Obama's first White House counsel, said the lower number comes in part from a deliberate strategy by the Obama administration to nominate fewer -- and more moderate -- judges, the president's nominees have also been blocked by Senate Republicans who have objected to even uncontroversial individuals.

"There's been a very distressing slowdown in the consideration of nominations to courts, so meeting this record and making this record is all the more commendable. It also points out how important it is for the Senate to fill the vacancies," said Greenberger. "There are a number of uncontroversial nominations that include women that need to be considered by the Senate."

According to statistics put out by the NWLC last month, 31 percent of the active judges on the 13 federal courts of appeal are women. Approximately 30 percent of active U.S. district court judges are women.

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