When Court of Appeals Judge Rhonda Wood is sworn in as Arkansas’s newest Supreme Court Justice on January 1, 2015, she will be part of the first female-majority Supreme Court in our state’s history.
Wood said it is nice to know that she is the person who is changing Arkansas’s history by creating the majority with her rise to the Supreme Court. “Now there is no question for young girls dreaming of practicing law or becoming a judge,” Wood said. “It is absolutely possible to serve on the Arkansas Supreme Court. That wasn’t necessarily true when I was young.”
UALR Bowen School of Law Professor and Assoc. Dean Theresa Beiner said in an interview with KUAR that something frequently asked is whether the Supreme Court will decide cases differently. In the March 23 broadcast, Beiner said political scientists have studied this extensively.
“The answer to that question is ‘No,’” Beiner said. “Women for the most part don’t judge in a way that is appreciably different than their male counterparts...There’s one caveat to that,...and that’s in sex discrimination cases, where you see women judges tending to vote more favorably for plaintiffs. Perhaps that is not surprising. They maybe can identify a little more with the plaintiffs in those cases. But for the vast majority of cases we don’t really see women judging in a way that’s appreciably different from male judges. That perception has been debunked....”
Wood is running unopposed for State Supreme Court Associate Justice, Position 7 in the non- partisan election. Currently, there are ten states, including Washington, D.C., with female-majority supreme courts: Wisconsin, Washington, Tennessee, Ohio, California, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Washington, D.C., and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Texas has courts of last resort for civil cases and for criminal cases.
In 1991, Minnesota became the first state that had a majority of women on its highest court. Well, technically, it was Texas in 1925. Staff attorney and public information officer for the Texas Supreme Court Osler McCarthy said, “The first all-woman Supreme Court in U.S. history was the court that was the Texas Supreme Court in 1925...[She was] appointed to hear one case over a trust matter involving a fraternal organization.”
Women have been on the bench for years in Arkansas. Elsijane Trimble Roy (1916-2007) was the first female circuit judge when she was appointed by the governor in 1966. Currently, there are three women on the Supreme Court; two women on the Court of Appeals (of 12, and including Judge Wood); 19 (of 121) female circuit court judges; and 17 (of 116) women serving as district court judges.
On the Supreme Court, Betty Dickey became the first female chief justice when then-Governor Mike Huckabee appointed her to complete a term. The first female elected Supreme Court justice was Annabelle Imber Tuck, who served from 1998 until she retired at the end of 2009.