As the first and only executive director of The Infinity Project — a scholar-led group devoted to getting women judges seated on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — Debra Fitzpatrick has made an impact.
Her nonpartisan group was founded in 2007 with a mission to inform key decision makers about the importance of female leadership at the 8th Circuit. It helped get Jane Kelly appointed in 2013 to join Diana Murphy as the only women ever to serve on the 8th Circuit bench. Sadly, Murphy died earlier this year. “So we still have some significant work to do there,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick also is co-director of the Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
The center studies the leadership obstacles that women face in all sectors of society. In recent years, she has worked with affinity bar associations to train and recruit rural women and women of color to find a place on the bench at all levels.
Partly that’s about helping women navigate an imperfect process, Fitzpatrick said. But it’s also about changing the process to make things easier for women down the road. It seems to be working. Several women who completed the training are now district court judges.
The work continues. “It’s very important for people to see women in those highest levels in the legal profession, to feel like they are getting a fair shake,” Fitzpatrick said.