Those of us on staff here at the newspaper that grew up in Indiana and were of a certain age to pay attention to the news
can likely recall when Judge Sarah Evans Barker was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.
It was a big deal, the first female federal judge here, in an era when few women were in positions of power and authority. All of a sudden, here was a role model, though she may not have wanted that job. Someone for women who were young at the time to look to and consider “Well, if she can be a federal judge, then why can’t I ____?” and we filled in our own blank. She’s an intelligent woman, whose quick wit and easy manner we’d later discover puts people at ease, and a gifted storyteller.
Fast-forward about 30 years – how could it have taken 30 years? – and then there were two female federal judges with the addition of the Hon. Theresa Springmann in Indiana’s Northern District. Judge Springmann had been a magistrate judge in that court before being confirmed as an Article III judge in 2003.
What Judge Barker says in a news story in this issue of the newspaper about the absolutely historic confirmation of Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson and Judge Tanya Walton Pratt is worth repeating here:
“You may not be able to tell any difference in work product or whether an opinion is written by a man or woman judge, but this will enhance the quality of justice and makes it deeper and broader and even more credible.”
That’s what bringing diversity to the federal bench will do for all of us.
“Their coming to the court is so special and new, but it’s been a long time coming,” Judge Barker continued speaking about her new colleagues. “It matters so much that the bench is diverse, and in rapid order we’ve gone to being a majority on the court after many years of being a distinct minority.”
It also matters more than words can express that the federal bench in Indiana finally has its first African-American judge. Judge Pratt may now be a member of a majority on the federal bench in the Southern District, but she is still a part of a distinct minority.
“This has been a test of patience,” Judge Pratt told our reporter, speaking about the nomination process, “but I’m so very happy and honored. I do respect the historic significance of being the first African-American in the state to join the federal bench, and that’s really a credit to Sen. (Evan) Bayh for looking outside the traditional group of candidates to be inclusive.”
One can hardly overstate the importance of having an African-American judge on the federal bench, for the same reason Judge Barker was such an inspiration for all Indiana women who would take notice of her, even those who would never attend a law school.
“You have to have those distinguished role models … so you can see others work hard and do it, and know that you can, too,” Judge Pratt said. She and Judge Magnus-Stinson are of the same mind when they said that one of the best parts of all this has been to see the pride in their daughters’ eyes over their accomplishments. “Any little girl can do it.”•