Women at the Podium

By Clare Cushman
Q. Since Belva Ann Lockwood argued a case in 1880, how many women have presented argument at the Supreme Court? (A. 769)

Q. During which Term did women present the greatest number of arguments (A. 40, in October Term 1986)

Q. Who holds the record for most number of cases argued by a woman? (A. Lisa S. Blatt, 41). She is followed by Patricia A. Millett (32) Nicole Siharsky (30) Mabel Walker Willebrandt (29) Beatrice Rosenberg (28) and Beth S. Brinkmann (25). Next comes Bessie Margolin (24), who is the subject of a fascinating biography by Marlene Trestman, Fair Labor Lawyer. It is thanks to Trestman’s painstaking research that we now have an accurate and up to date list of women advocates, which can be found here at: Table 1 – Women Advocates Through OT 2020

Trestman has also dug up some interesting facts and figures about multiple women appearing before the justices on the same day or same case. She reports that women argued against (or with) other women in the same cases 55 times during the twentieth century, and 80 times during the first 21 terms of the twenty-first century. In October 1955, Gloria Agrin and Blanch Freedman became the first women to argue against each other (in Nukk v. Shaugnhessy, 350 U.S. 869 (1955)).
Scotus Scoop: Maureen Mahoney being questioned by Justice John Paul Stevens during her 1998 argument for Department of Commerce v. United States House of Representatives.

Maureen Mahoney being questioned by Justice John Paul Stevens during her 1998 argument for Department of Commerce v. United States House of Representatives. Sketch by Dana Verkouteren.

The largest number of women advocates ever to argue on the same day was five, which has occurred only once in the Court’s history. On April 19, 1988, Susan S. Dickerson, Mandy Welch, Maureen Mahoney, Evalynn Welling and Ellen Viakley presented arguments in four different cases, and outnumbered the four male advocates that day. Counting Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who joined the bench seven years earlier, that occasion also marked the first time in the Court’s history that the voices of six women were heard during oral arguments on a single day. That number of women’s voices did not reoccur until the penultimate term of the century. On January 12, 1999, four women, Verna L. Williams, Barbara D. Underwood, Barbara B. McDowell, and Donna D. Domonkos (and two men), argued two cases to a Supreme Court that included not only Justice O’Connor but also Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. So far during the twenty-first century, the highest number of women advocates to argue on the same day is three, which has happened 32 times. Thus, it wasn’t until Justice Elena Kagan joined Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ginsburg on the bench for the October 2010 Term that the voices of six women were again heard during oral arguments; it happened on March 1, 2011 when Leondra Kruger, Carolyn A. Kubitschek and Melissa Arbus Sherry presented argument in two different cases, and has happened again 16 times. For more of Trestman’s research click here.