Associate Dean Marie Failinger is among four women to recently receive a Changemaker for 2008 Award from Minnesota Women's Press. The award is for "extraordinary actions taken over the past year to create greater equality, justice and self-determination for women and girls."
Professor Failinger and the other winners: Lisa Brabbit, associate dean at the University of St. Thomas School of Law' Sally Kenney, professor and director of the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs; and Mary Vasaly, partner at Maslon, Edelman, Borman & Brand; were lauded for their work in starting the Infinity Project, which seeks to increase gender diversity on the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals. To date, only one woman, Judge Diana Murphy, has ever been apointed to serve on the 8th Circuit bench.
"In a year when women have been serious presidential and vice-presidential candidates, it is quite surprising for most lawyers to learn that there has only been one woman judge ever on the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals," said Associate Dean Failinger. "The courts should always be the first place that models the equality and diversity we expect of our government, not the last. The Infinity Project is seeking to shine a spotlight on the process for judicial appointments in the past and to ask the question, "Why haven't women been considered for these positions?"
Associate Dean Failinger notes the issue is not one of qualifications. "Many qualified women are state appellate court and federal judges and magistrates, not to mention the well-qualified trial and appellate lawyers and state judges. So the real question is, "What is wrong with this process?"
The Infinity Project hosted a planning conference in October 2008 that drew nearly 150 participants from the seven states of the Eighth Circuit. A $43,000 grant also has been granted from the Open Society to support the Infinity Project.
"The Infinity Project is an example of what a few women sitting around a table who see something wrong with our legal system can do if they have passion and the willingness to keep working to make it right," said Associate Dean Failinger.