Hanna: Women and the bench

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(HOST) This week, with the confirmation hearings beginning for Sonia Sotomayor, Vermont Law School Professor Cheryl Hanna  reflects on changes in the legal community – some right here at home.

(HANNA) I know I sound like such a nerd, but there’s nothing more exciting to me than a confirmation hearing.  I love it when a member of the Judiciary Committee spouts off about some aspect of the law, and then the nominee gives a bookish but noncommittal answer.  Maybe it’s only constitutional lawyers who can appreciate the subtle nuances to Justice Jackson’s concurring opinion in Youngstown, or a reference to a "Brandeis brief"; but, honestly, I get goose bumps.

So I can’t wait to see Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. By all accounts, Sotomayor’s the kind of judge who can hold her own, even against those Senators who feel a partisan obligation to inflict some wounds. Her nomination is one of the most exciting developments for the Court in more than a decade.

At the same time, we can’t forget the exciting judicial news here in Vermont and New Hampshire.

After months of searching, Senator Patrick Leahy announced that he’s nominated Vermont District Court Judge Christina Reiss to serve as Vermont’s next federal district court judge.  Judge Reiss will be the first woman to hold this position in Vermont, and all I can say is: "Hooray – and it’s about time!"

By all accounts, Judge Reiss will make an outstanding federal judge. She was at the top of her class in law school and served as a partner in two law firms before being appointed to the bench by Governor Jim Douglas.  Her appointment reflects a non-partisan commitment to excellence in the legal profession.  
And I give Leahy credit for a process that was designed to identify the best and brightest.  Often senior senators of the president’s party simply nominate a judge based on political connections.  This often results with those in the "old boys’ network" getting the positions of power.  

But this time, a nonpartisan panel screened applicants. It interviewed and vetted eight finalists, and then recommended four to Leahy for consideration.  As a result, the process was fair and open, and many people, particularly women, applied.

And in New Hampshire, Carol Ann Conboy was just sworn in as the second female justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court.  Like Judge Reiss, she, too, has been praised for her intellect and fair-mindedness and is also expected to represent the people of the Granite State with wisdom and integrity.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently remarked that "If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers."

With the appointments of Judges Sotomayor, Reiss and Conboy, things certainly are changing.  It’s not that any one of them will rule in any particular way on cases.  It’s just important that they’re there, pulling those levers of the law on behalf of us all.

I wish each of them the best of luck, and hope that the spirit of Justitia, the Roman Goddess of Justice, guides them as they guide us.

You go girls!

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