While women have made strides in their representation in elected office in recent decades, the gender is still proportionately under-represented, particularly in Alabama, where women make up only 14.3 percent of the state legislature and hold only one of the state’s constitutional officer positions. At all levels of the Alabama judiciary, however, women are beginning to achieve parity with their male counterparts, being elected and appointed to the bench at increasing numbers each year.
There are two female justices on Alabama’s Supreme Court, or 22 percent of the body, as well as 40 percent of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, and 20 percent of the Court of Civil Appeals.
Among all judges in Alabama, approximately 20 percent are women, with the highest percentage serving in the state’s intermediate appellate courts
These honorable women of the court, whether elected or appointed, are interpreting state and federal law, their decisions having an immediate and tangible impact on our daily lives. Here are just a few of those accomplished and esteemed ladies:
Alabama Supreme Court
Associate Justice Lyn Stuart: Justice Stuart, first elected to the bench in 2000, has as impressive of a resume as any judge. An alumna of the University of Alabama Law School, Justice Stuart has served as an assistant attorney general, an assistant district attorney, a district judge, and circuit judge. She is a past president of the Alabama Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, as well as a past president of the Blue Ridge Institute for Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
A native of Atmore, Alabama, Justice Stuart and her family live in Bay Minette. She will be up for reelection in 2018.
Associate Justice Alissa Kelli Wise: The youngest member of the Alabama Supreme Court, Justice Wise’s bachelor’s degree is actually in Nursing, which she earned from Auburn University in 1985, before returning to law school several years later and earning her Juris Doctorate from the Jones School of Law in Birmingham.
Justice Wise’s legal career began in the private sector, but after obtaining a Masters in Public Administration in 2000, she won election to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, earning the distinction of becoming the youngest woman ever elected to sit on an Alabama Appellate Court.
Justice Wise was elected to the Alabama Supreme Court in 2010, and will seek reelection for her position on the bench this November.
Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
Judge Mary Becker Windom: Windom is the presiding judge of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and wife of longtime Alabama politician and former Lieutenant Governor Steve Windom. An alumna of the University of South Alabama and Jones Law School, Judge Windom began her legal career in private practice before becoming an Assistant United States Attorney and Deputy Attorney General for Alabama.
Judge Windom was elected to her seat on the bench in 2008, and was reelected in 2014. Her current term doesn’t expire until 2020.
Judge Beth Kellum: A Vance, Alabama native, Judge Kellum earned both her undergraduate and juris doctorate degrees at the University of Alabama, jut a few miles from her home. After working as an Assistant Attorney General and Staff Attorney for the Court of Criminal Appeals, Judge Kellum turned to private practice for a few years before returning to public service.
Judge Kellum was elected in 2008, then reelected in 2014.
Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
Judge Terri Willingham Thomas: A graduate of the Cumberland School of Law, Judge Thomas served 10 years as a District and Juvenile Court Judge in Cullman County before being elected to the bench in 2006.
While women have a long way to go before achieving proportional representation in elected positions, including the Alabama judiciary, there is reason to believe progress will soon be made.
According to the American Bar Association, 35 percent of lawyers nationwide are women, but even more encouragingly, 47.3 percent of recent law school graduates are female. Among those in American colleges and universities women now outnumber men, a trend that has only increased in recent years.
Whether the historical reality of having fewer women in positions of power and influence is based on traditional gender roles, discrimination, or simply women’s choices, it appears the disparity is on its way out.
As more and more women choose public service, including positions in the judiciary, many of the barriers and possible prejudices against women in positions of power will begin to crumble.