When Lauren Stiller Rikleen was approached in 2020 by the ABA Judicial Division to help compile autobiographical stories from women judges in America, a powerful motivating factor for her was to capture stories of the barriers the judges overcame in their own words.
Rikleen, a former law firm partner and consultant who writes and speaks about the importance of cross-generational communication, tells the ABA Journal’s Lee Rawles that she hopes millennial and Gen Z readers will benefit from the reflections of women judges from the Silent Generation, baby boomers and Gen X. Some of the challenges they faced will not similarly impede younger generations, but other obstacles are familiar, formidable and still present.
“[E]ven as gains are made, biases are deep and systemic, requiring the vigilance of every generation to continue the difficult work of achieving full equity for all,” Rikleen writes in her introduction to Her Honor: Stories of Challenge and Triumph from Women Judges.
Bookended by essays about the former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Her Honor compiles reflections by the living jurists or essays about the lives of judges who have passed on. The 25 women jurists are all honorees of the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Awards, selected by the Commission on Women in the Profession. Rikleen herself has received a Margaret Brent award, and says it was a fair-handed way to narrow down participants. Past Margaret Brent honorees who also contributed to Her Honor include previous guests of the Modern Law Library podcast, Judge Bernice Bouie Donald and Judge M. Margaret McKeown. The judges write about the paths they took to the judiciary; their struggles to balance their work and personal lives; the people who mentored and encouraged them; and their triumphs and regrets.
“They are different in every particular, yet what unites them in the aggregate is profound: This is a book about imagination, and what it took and still takes for women, and by extension other minorities invisible to the Constitution and the law, to imagine themselves into a structure that didn’t include them,” Dahlia Lithwick, senior legal correspondent at Slate, wrote in the forward to the book.
In addition to discussing Her Honor, Rikleen and Rawles get into another project to which Rikleen has devoted her time. She is the executive director of Lawyers Defending American Democracy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that works to uphold democratic norms and the rule of law. They also discuss the “three Cs” promoted by ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross: civics, civility and collaboration.