Of the nine candidates running in Louisiana’s judicial races this year, all of them are women, Jeremy Alford notes in his latest column.
“This is certainly welcome news for those who want to see more women in elected office in the Bayou State, where strides have been slow,” he writes. “Of course, this means that the four judicial elections on the March 25 ballot will give us four women judges, three of which will be replacing male successors. That’s a net gain of three new women representatives on the bench—a figure that should help Louisiana move the needle a bit in terms of national rankings.”
Alford points to a 2016 Tulane University report that found that 31% of judges serving in Louisiana were women. That’s up from 27% in 2011, when the State University of New York at Albany published a similar study that ranks Louisiana near the middle of all states in terms of the percentage of women elected to the bench.
“Louisiana often ranks last or next to last in analyses of the pay gap between men and women, maternal and infant mortality, or percentage of women in the state legislature,” reads the Tulane study. “Some political scientists have gone so far as to argue that women either cannot win in the South or face more significant gender-based hurdles than in other regions. Yet women do relatively well in partisan judicial elections in Louisiana, hold positions of judicial leadership, and are relatively well represented in federal courts.”
Alford says the trend carries over into this spring’s judicial races, where women are vying for seats previously held by men.
One of the contests has already been decided, with Allison Hopkins Penzato of Mandeville being elected without opposition during qualifying to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal. She’s taking over for retired Judge Ernie Drake Jr.
Other contests are taking place in the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal in Lafayette, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans and Civil District Court (Division B) in New Orleans.
While a net gain of three seats is nothing to sneeze at, the authors of the Tulane study say population estimates also need to be taken into account, Alford notes.
“For example, while women hold 31% of all judgeships in Louisiana, they also account for 51% of the overall population,” Alford writes. “The stats read a little better on paper when you look only at the federal courts based in our state—meaning three U.S. district courts and the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. In that area alone in Louisiana women constitute 40% of all judgeships.”