In the context of a 2003 high court ruling in which Chief Justice William Rehnquist “suddenly turned into a feminist, denouncing ‘stereotypes about women’s domestic roles,’” New York Times U.S. Supreme Court correspondent Adam Liptak recently discussed a study appearing in the American Journal of Political Science on the effect that having daughters has had on the federal judges that consider cases involving women’s issues.
Conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester and Harvard, the study considered approximately 2,500 votes involving 224 federal appeals court judges. It concluded, “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.” This effect is apparently more pronounced if the daughter is an only child—“Having one daughter as opposed to one son is linked to an even higher 16 percent increase in the proportion of gender-related cases decided in a feminist direction.” The researchers analyzed the same judges’ votes in an additional set of 3,000 randomly selected cases and found no relationship between having daughters and “liberal” votes.
They suggest that the most likely explanation for the phenomenon was offered by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “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.” In their view, “empathy may indeed be a component in how judges decide cases.” Ginsburg, who was delighted with Rehnquist’s 2003 opinion, felt that his life experience had played a role in his shifting point of view—one of his daughters had apparently recently divorced and combined single parenting with a demanding job. When he authored the opinion, just a few years before he died, he had reportedly been leaving work early to pick up his granddaughters from school. See The New York Times, June 16, 2014.