Volume XXI
Issue 1
Fall '19

Gender and the Language of Judicial Opinion Writing

Written By: Mary Pat Gunderson

Abstract

The “#MeToo” Movement has forced corporations and the entertainment industry, as well as state and federal executive and legislative branch officials, to take a hard look at gender inequities and sexual harassment in the work-place. But, how does our judicial system fare? Is the one branch of government charged with being fair and impartial in the interpretation and application of our laws truly fair and impartial?

Between 2010 and 2018, the Iowa Supreme Court was the only state supreme court in the country that did not include any women or people of color. Does it matter? Is there an institutional bias when only one gender reviews, decides and writes opinions? Is the lack of female perspective on the court detrimental to women?

This piece considers the real possibility of implicit gender bias in judicial opinion writing by deconstructing four recent Iowa Supreme Court ethics opinions written by an all-male Court wherein the survivors were female clients and/or intimate partners of the male attorney/abuser. Not only do the case results themselves raise questions but also the language those results are wrapped in may be even more revealing. This article examines both these results and language through the eyes of an Iowa woman who served as a trial Court judge in Iowa’s largest judicial district.

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