Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2012


This article seeks to advance our understanding of international courts' legitimacy and its relationship to who sits on the bench. It asks whether we should care that few women sit on international court benches. After providing statistics on women's participation on eleven of the world's most important courts and tribunals, the article argues that under-representation of one sex affects normative legitimacy because it endangers impartiality and introduces bias when men and women approach judging differently. Even if men and women do not think differently, a sex un-representative bench harms sociological legitimacy for constituencies who believe they do nonetheless. For groups traditionally excluded from international law-making or historically discriminated against, inclusion likely strengthens sociological legitimacy and continued exclusion perpetuates conclusions about unfairness. Finally, sex representation is important to democratic legitimacy of international courts, although it may endanger sociological legitimacy for constituencies who associate authority with male judges or if women are unqualified or perceived as less qualified.



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