My Turn: Judge’s gender has nothing to do with it

Last modified: Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Last week the former magistrate judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire was sworn in as the first female justice of that court. But the emphasis on her gender, though pioneering, is misplaced.

Landya McCafferty has tirelessly worked her way through the legal and judicial system. She has earned universal respect among her peers and accomplished what few in her position could. This has nothing to do with her gender. The focus on her gender detracts from who she is and what she has done. She has served the people, the state and federal legal systems. Those familiar with her career know her demonstrable commitment to principles that make an outstanding jurist: dedication to the cause of justice, equal treatment of all litigants, scholarship of law and, perhaps most important, recognition of human fallibility. This last quality is evidenced by her incredible modesty and her respectful demeanor to all who have business before her court.

An older judge once remarked privately how difficult it was to remind yourself to be human when you’re surrounded by sycophants full of compliments and unearned praise, receiving great deference and being referred to by a near-royal title.

McCafferty is immune to that syndrome. Her opinions are as scholarly as any higher courts’ in the nation. She never has harsh words of criticism for novel argument; searing analysis and respect are prevalent.

She was originally appointed by four male judges (all Republican appointees) as a magistrate judge. In a polarized political environment, she was nominated by a Democratic president. In the fractious U.S. Senate, she received a unanimous confirmation by the Judiciary Committee. The full Senate, in a misguided display of anger, delayed her confirmation, not because of McCafferty but because her name was paired with a controversial nominee, whom even some Democrats labeled as extreme or radical. All the New England senators agreed she was the best person for the position and was quite noncontroversial.

This is an accomplishment. McCafferty unified opposing political forces. She has demonstrated compassion, scholarship and fairness. She brings humanity to the bench. She did all regardless of her gender, faith, political persuasion, fear or favor, but with human decency and legal knowledge.

I am not one to dish out plaudits easily. Many judges in our state fail people on a daily basis. Many give us faith in the republic and serve faithfully every day. Some are men, some are women. To correlate their abilities or performance to any physical attribute is unworthy of the state of our society.

(Tony F. Soltani of Epsom is a lawyer and former state representative.)