Both the federal judiciary and Harvard Law School were male-dominated institutions when, as a second-year law student, I first encountered Shirley Hufstedler in the fall of 1971. Judge Hufstedler was the only woman sitting on a United States Court of Appeals anywhere in the country and only the second woman ever to do so: Florence Ellinwood Allen was the first, appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1934. There were, of course, no women on the United States Supreme Court; although there were a handful of women serving on the federal district courts, none was on the bench in any of the states within the Ninth Circuit.
The situation was not too different at Harvard Law School: only about 10% of my classmates were women; the class ahead of us, slightly less; the class behind, slightly more. The regular faculty--professors and assistant professors--was exclusively male. There were two female lecturers in law: one an expert in international tax; the second an expert in sex discrimination, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
At the Ames Moot Court Competition finals that fall, the two institutions came together. The judges for the final competition were Justice Harry Blackmun, Judge James Oakes from the Second Circuit, and Judge Hufstedler. As anyone who ever saw her on the bench would expect, Judge Hufstedler's performance that evening was absolutely breathtaking. She asked incisive, clearly articulated questions, but phrased pleasantly; she displayed a sense of humor while not diminishing the importance of the event to the participants; and she demonstrated both respect and support for the student advocates. The buzz following oral argument--and for days afterward--was all about Shirley Hufstedler: what an extraordinary appellate judge she must be. That she was a woman now seemed almost entirely beside the point.
The timing of Judge Hufstedler's participation in the Ames Moot Court Competition was especially serendipitous for me. Shortly after her visit to the law school, I applied to be one of her law clerks following my graduation. To my delight I was offered the position. The offer came in a letter in Shirley's own beautiful handwriting, something of a trademark for her; I have kept that letter as one of my most treasured mementos.
A year working as a Hufstedler clerk was the best postgraduate training a new lawyer could have. Shirley's writing was not only clear and concise but also frequently poetic. One of my first tasks as a new law clerk was to do the final proofreading for her now-famous opinion...