Since the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals was established in 1891, Judge Diana E. Murphy, appointed in 1994, was the first and remains the only woman to serve on its bench. Nine judges have been appointed to the 17-member bench during Murphy’s tenure – all men. Among the 13 federal circuit courts of appeals, the 8th Circuit has the lowest percentage of women judges. The Infinity Project, created in 2008, sees the gender gap – both in the 8th Circuit and in the other circuits – as a judicial tragedy demanding both attention and action.

The Infinity Project is a coalition of lawyers, scholars, community leaders and organizations working to increase the gender diversity of the federal bench to ensure the quality of justice in the 8th Circuit. The Infinity Project received a $43,000 grant to help advance its mission from the Open Society Institute.

In October, the Infinity Project hosted a summit at the School of Law with project members from Minnesota and the six additional states covered by the 8th Circuit: Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. Current 8th Circuit Judges Murphy and Michael J. Melloy spoke on the day-to-day work of an 8th Circuit judge. Law professor Sherrilyn Ifill of the University of Maryland spoke on leadership, judicial selection and diversity. (See her article on Page 14.)

In addition, the Infinity Project honored Murphy with the newly established Judge Diana Murphy Legacy Award, created to recognize her extraordinary achievements and contributions, support of women lawyers and judges, and commitment to equal justice. The award will honor individuals and organizations that advance the position of women on the bench, support the progress of women in law and uphold Murphy’s legacy of excellence.

The Infinity Project takes its name from the ongoing nature of its work and from the resemblance between the numeral 8 and the infinity symbol. Its goals are to further public awareness of the importance of gender equity on the bench, to engage politicians and other decision makers on that issue, and to serve as a clearinghouse for potential 8th Circuit candidates. The project neither will advocate for particular candidates nor screen candidates to determine whether they are qualified to serve.

More than 200 Minnesota supporters have signed on with the project since August. The Minnesota Women’s Press listed the Infinity Project as one of its 2008 Changemakers whose actions promoted “greater equality and justice.”

Judicial scholars note that every justice currently on the U.S. Supreme Court previously served on a court of appeals. The Infinity Project notes that unless gender diversity is increased on the federal circuit courts, there is a risk of excluding women as potential candidates for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Author: Lisa Montpetit Brabbit, assistant dean for external relations at the School of Law, is a founding member of The Infinity Project. Visit www.theinfinityproject

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