In a paper that has already received well-deserved public attention, "Where Have All the Women Gone? 'Random Variation' in the Supreme Court Clerkship Lottery," Professors David Kaye (Law, ASU) and Joseph Gastwirth (Statistics & Econ., George Wash. U.) hold Supreme Court Justices' clerk selections up to empirical light in an effort to assess recent claims of gender disparity.
Some may recall that the New York Times gave front page coverage "to some disturbing facts about this year's clerks - only seven out of the 37 - a mere 19 percent - are women. This outcome, moreover, represents a shocking 50 percent drop from preceding years. Yet, two Justices portrayed this year's percentage as the result of 'random variation,' a claim that strikes many observers as incredible." The Kaye and Gastwirth paper carefully takes up this claim. An excerpted abstract follows.
"This essay applies standard statistical reasoning to answer two questions - what do the numbers prove, and how strongly do they prove it? We show that this year's decline in women is not at all improbable. Likewise, if the percentage of women applying for these clerkships is in the range of what one Justice suggested, then the small proportion of women is about what one would expect.
The situation seems different, however, when one examines statistics on each Justice. Some Justices hire considerably fewer women than would be expected by chance, while others hire somewhat more. There are many possible explanations for this pattern. We marshal data to assess the plausibility of some of them, but in the end, the available records do not allow a definitive conclusion."