Women’s History Month shouldn’t be the only time we acknowledge the monumental contributions female lawyers have made to the legal profession. However, it’s a good jumping-off point to lead to more informed discussions on how women in law have enacted lasting differences in the past and how they will continue to do so in the future.
As we highlight some of the most influential attorneys of the last 100 years who happen to be women it’s important to note how much has changed in a century and how much still needs to change to give women a fair foothold in the legal world.
RBG: A Hero to the World
A fierce protector of civil liberties, Ruth Bader Ginsburg stood as a 5-foot-tall giant in legal and non-legal circles. She turned her beliefs into iconic statements on affirmative action, abortion, and gender equality among other important issues.
She was only the second woman to serve as a US Supreme Court Justice. She started her historic run after being nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and served until her death in 2020. During that time she was a part of landmark rulings on gender discrimination, abortion rights, voting rights and advocated for extended rights for the mentally ill.
The Notorious R.B.G, as she came to be known, inspired young people of all genders, to take an interest in the judicial process and fight injustice with legal careers of their own.
Jessica Dominguez: Champion for Immigrants
As immigration issues continue to divide the country Attorney Jessica Dominguez has used her considerable skills and even taken to social media to reform the immigration process and educate the nation on real concerns for the welfare and safety of immigrants.
As VIVA detailed, Dominguez is unique in her engagement on social media to change perceptions and raise awareness for immigrant victims everywhere. She can also be heard on radio, blogs, and seen on TV fighting for the rights of immigrants. She runs her own immigration law firm in Studio City, California to represent Spanish-speaking clients and their families.
Dominguez has given a voice to victims who have suffered sexual abuse and been enslaved by sex-traffickers because they’ve been too afraid of deportation to speak up. She has provided insight to the Los Angeles Times and The Guardian on her passion for immigration justice.
Sonya Sotomayor: The First Latina on the Supreme Court
Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor made history in 2009 when she accepted a nomination to the Supreme Court from President Barack Obama. She became the first person of of Hispanic descent on the bench.
After graduating Yale Law School she went on to open a private practice. In just a few years she earned an appointment to the U.S. District Court upon the recommendation of President George H.W. Bush and then moved on to the U.S. Court of Appeals after a nomination by President Bill Clinton.
During her time serving the highest court in the land, Justice Sotomayor has been a fervent supporter of criminal justice system reform and has taken a firm stance on issues of race, gender, and ethnic identity.
Sandra Day O’Conner: Breaking the Glass Ceiling
Sandra Day O’Conner became the first female member of the Supreme Court on September 25, 1981 creating a pathway for other women striving to reach the high court or any other court in the judicial system. She served for almost 35 years and continued to hear cases on a part-time basis in federal court after her retirement in 2006.
She graduated from Stanford Law School in 1952 and discovered that finding a job as a female attorney was going to be difficult. She worked as a deputy attorney for free in San Mateo, California, and had to share an office with the secretary. Later, she worked her way into a role as an elected official and became the first majority leader of the Arizona State Senate.
Sandra Day O’Conner used her platform to show the profound effect women could have on American legal policy. She sided with conservative and liberal justices during her time. In 2009, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.
Genevieve Cline: The First of the First
Genevieve Rose Cline shattered barriers early. She became the first female judge to serve at the federal level way back in 1928. She began her career after earning her law degree in Berea, Ohio, and then opened up a private practice in Cleveland, Ohio.
She was nominated to a seat on the U.S. Customs Court in 1928 by President Calvin Coolidge. It was no temporary assignment either. She served until 1953 when she retired.
A Long Legacy of Female U.S. Attorneys
This is just a small list of the women who have refused to accept limitations placed on their gender when embarking on a judicial career. The actual influence of female legal experts in America goes back centuries to times when it could be dangerous to one’s career to challenge traditional norms in such a male-dominated profession.
We must acknowledge all of these legal pioneers for opening up the opportunities that women find today at every level of legal service. We still have progress to make to level the playing field for all genders, races, and creeds, but there will never be a shortage of qualified candidates to fill those roles as the next generation of inspiring legal professionals.