The Daily Brew: Women in top federal, state, judicial offices

Welcome to the Monday, March 8, Brew. Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Women in Congress, governorships, and top judicial positions
  2. Previewing Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District special election 
  3. New Learning Journey: What is an Agency? 

Women in Congress, governorships, and top judicial positions

Today is International Women’s Day—so what better time to explore some data points about women in Congress, governorships, and prominent judicial positions. Below, we look at firsts, the total numbers of women who have served in each office, and the number of women currently in each office.

Supreme Court

  • First: Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. President Ronald Reagan (R) appointed O’Connor in 1981. She served until January 2006.
  • Overall: Five women have served as associate justices on the U.S. Supreme Court: O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Amy Coney Barrett. Democratic presidents appointed three and Republican presidents appointed two.
  • Current: Three women serve on the Supreme Court: Sotomayor, Kagan, and Barrett. President Barack Obama appointed Sotomayor and Kagan. President Donald Trump appointed Barrett. 

U.S. Senate

  • First: Rebecca Felton (D-Ga.) served as the first female senator. In 1922, Felton’s husband died in office, and the governor appointed her to fill the seat. Felton served 24 hours while the Senate was in session. Hattie Caraway (D-Ark.) was the first woman elected to the Senate. She was elected in 1932 after being appointed in 1931, when her husband died in office. Caraway served until 1945.
  • Overall: 58 women have served in the Senate—36 Democrats and 22 Republicans.
  • Current: 24 women serve in the Senate—16 Democrats and eight Republicans.


  • First: Jeannette Rankin (R-Mont.) was the first woman to serve in the U.S. House. She was elected in 1916.
  • Overall: 345 women have served in the U.S. House—227 Democrats and 118 Republicans.
  • Current: 119 women serve in the U.S. House—89 Democrats and 30 Republicans.

Data on the total numbers and partisan breakdown of female representatives came from the Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University. 


  • First: Nellie Tayloe Ross (D-Wyo.) was the first woman elected governor, taking office in 1925. She won a special election to replace her deceased husband. The first woman elected governor who did not succeed her husband was Ella Grasso (D-Conn.), who took office in 1975.
  • Overall: 44 women have served as governors—26 Democrats and 18 Republicans. Two additional women have served as governors of Puerto Rico and one has served as governor of Guam.
  • Current: Nine women serve as governors (in eight states and Guam).

The above data on female governors came from the Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University. 

State supreme court chief justices

  • First: Lorna Lockwood began serving as Arizona Supreme Court chief justice in 1965.
  • Overall: Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School reported at least 58 women served as state supreme court chief justices as of 2017. Forty-one of the 50 states have had women in the top role of the state’s judiciary.
  • Current: 17 women serve as state supreme court chief justices.

Previewing Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District special election 

Three special elections have been scheduled to fill vacancies in the 117th Congress. Two of them take place in Louisiana on March 20. Early voting in both races began on Saturday (March 6) and ends on March 13. Today, we’re diving into the 2nd District race. Check out tomorrow’s Brew for a preview of the 5th District special election.

Fifteen candidates—eight Democrats, four Republicans, two Independents, and one Libertarian—are running.  President Joe Biden (D) appointed the previous incumbent, Cedric Richmond (D), to serve as a senior adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Richmond had represented the 2nd District since 2011 and won re-election in 2020 with 64% of the vote against five other candidates. The last Republican to represent the district was Anh “Joseph” Cao, who served from 2009 to 2011.

Louisiana elections use a majority vote system in which all candidates compete in the same primary. If a candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, they win outright. If no candidate does so, the top two vote recipients advance to a general election, regardless of their partisan affiliation. If necessary, a special runoff election will be held on April 24, 2021. 

Media attention has largely focused on Democrats Troy Carter, Karen Peterson, and Gary Chambers. Carter and Peterson currently serve as state senators. Chambers is an activist and publisher from Baton Rouge. Here are some key endorsements thus far:

  • Richmond has endorsed Carter. 
  • Former Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson endorsed Chambers. 
  • Stacey Abrams (D), who ran for governor of Georgia in 2018, endorsed Peterson. 

The third congressional special election scheduled this year is in Texas’ 6th District on May 1. That vacancy was created when Ronald Wright (R) died due to complications from COVID-19 on Feb. 7. Twenty-three candidates—11 Republicans, 10 Democrats, one Libertarian, and one independent—filed to run in that election by the March 3 deadline.

Read on

New Learning Journey: What is an Agency? 

Ballotpedia is excited to introduce our newest Learning Journey on government agencies. This Learning Journey guides you through the structure and function of administrative agencies and debates about agency dynamics. We also cover independent agencies and debates about agency design.

After you sign up, we’ll send you four emails, one on each day of the series. Sign up here!

Five pillars are key to understanding the administrative state. We offer several Learning Journeys designed to help you understand each pillar and its relationship to the administrative state. Our “What is an Agency?” Learning Journey falls under the Agency Dynamics pillar. Here are all five:

  • Nondelegation
  • Judicial Deference
  • Executive control of agencies
  • Procedural rights
  • Agency dynamics

Ballotpedia has 20 Learning Journeys on the administrative state and five on additional topics, including presidential primaries and news literacy. Click here to see them all and sign up to do one today!