Infinity Project Seeks to Increase Gender Diversity of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals

By Kenney, Sally J. | Judicature, November/December 2008 | Go to article overview

Infinity Project Seeks to Increase Gender Diversity of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals


Kenney, Sally J., Judicature


Few observe the work of the powerful federal circuit courts of appeal. Supreme Court justices are widely known and the media closely follow their confirmation hearings and possible vacancies. Federal district court judges preside over highprofile local trials. With appeals courts out of sight, it is easy to assume that women's march towards equality is progressing steadily when in fact we are reversing the progress of the last decade. More than 30 percent of President Clinton's appeals court appointments were women but only about 20 percent of President Bush's have been women.1 Two circuits are one retirement away from becoming all-male courts, the First Circuit (New England) and the Eighdi Circuit (Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Arkansas, Missouri).

Since it began, the Eighdi Circuit has had 61 judges (3 before the court became the Eighdi Circuit).

Only one of them has been a woman, Diana Murphy, who is 74 years old. (President Clinton nominated Bonnie Campbell but the Senate never held a vote to confirm her.) Eleven judges currently sit on the Eighdi Circuit Court of Appeals. (Seventeen judges serve if you count the six judges who have senior status.) The last nine appointments to the court have been men.2 As of January 1, 2007, 41 women were in active service on circuit courts, but only one of them was on the Eighdi Circuit.5

The Infinity Project's mission is to increase the gender diversity of the federal bench to ensure the quality of justice in the Eighdi Circuit. (The name comes from the numeral 8 turned on its side.) A group of four core members began the project in 2007; that group expanded to more than 100 by 2008. On October 17-18, 2008, the Infinity Project met in Minneapolis to hold a seven-state organizing conference, funded by a grant from the Open Society Institute. Nearly 170 people heard University of Maryland School of Law Professor Sherrilyn Iffil argue for the importance of a diverse bench. Judges Diana Murphy and Michael Melloy spoke about the work of the court, the kinds of cases it hears, and how the current judges came to be there. More than 30 women from across the circuit then met in closed session to organize and construct tiieir campaign for change. The Infinity Project will seek to educate senators and other key decision makers about the gender imbalance on the Eighth Circuit, identify well qualified women for consideration, mobilize widespread support for increasing the gender diversity of the court among groups and individuals, and educate the wider public about our lack of progress and why gender diversity matters. The group included women who had been interviewed for appointments in the past, as well as leading law professors and attorneys in private practice. …

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