32. The courts play a central role in determining women’s ability to enjoy and exercise the rights accorded to them by law. In the United States, there has been an increase in awareness of the need for gender diversity and gender sensitive adjudication in judiciaries. Since the beginning of his mandate, the President has appointed over 130 women judges. The Supreme Court counts three women among its nine Justices for the first time in history20. Of the 170 active judges currently sitting on the 13 federal courts of appeal, 60 are women (35%)21.
33. A severe problem for women litigants is in access to justice: free legal counsel and aid is not systematic for women living in poverty and when legal aid is partially provided to the most destitute, it is allegedly of very poor quality. The experts hope that the White House Legal AID Interagency Roundtable established in September 2015 will propose concrete solutions and adequate budget to address this gap.
34. The institution of the class action which has allowed large numbers of women to access compensation for discrimination or injury caused by powerful corporations, is being eroded with particular impact on women’s legal resources for fighting gender discrimination. as demonstrated in the Supreme Court’s rejection in 2013 of a class action suit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for discrimination on behalf of potentially a million female workers. The justices held that the petitioners failed to point to a common corporate policy that led to gender discrimination against workers at thousands of Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores across the country.
35. The Working Group also remains concerned at the particular difficulties faced by Native women in accessing justice. The interaction between federal, state and tribal jurisdictions means that crimes committed by non-indigenous men on reservations often go unpunished. To address this, in July 2010, the Tribal Law and Order Act was passed, with the aim of clarifying responsibilities and increasing coordination among the various law enforcement agencies.22 Efforts at remedying the criminal justice response to violence against Native women were also made with the reauthorization of the VAWA in 2013. However, the Group received reports that these legislations are not being fully and effectively implemented, resulting in a persistent failure of the justice system to respond adequately to acts of violence against Native women.23
36. The experts recommend that the issue of substantive equality for women in court proceedings be revisited and reinvigorated and that access to justice for all, with adequate legal representation, be regarded as a civil right which, where necessary, should be publically funded.