Making History Today: These Women in Government Are Blazing New Paths

M. Isabelle Chaudry

March 24, 2022

Women’s History Month isn’t just a time to recognize achievements made throughout the decades to advance women’s rights and demand equity. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate women making history today, the ones in our unwritten history books.

For example, U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, if confirmed, will be the first Black woman to serve on the nation’s highest court. Judge Jackson, a former clerk for retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, graduated from Harvard Law School and served as a federal district and appellate court judge in Washington, D.C. Before serving as a judge, she worked for two years as a federal public defender, a vitally important role and an experience that few judges share. Indeed, she would be the first Supreme Court justice to ever have held such a position.

Shalanda Baker, a Member Scholar on leave from the Center for Progressive Reform, currently serves as the secretarial advisor on equity and the first-ever deputy director for energy justice in the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the U.S. Department of Energy. Baker’s decade-long research on the equity dimensions of the global transition from fossil fuel energy to clean energy sources established her as a leader and one of the foremost respected voices in energy justice. She is currently headed back to the U.S. Senate for confirmation to be director of the Department of Energy’s Office of Minority Economic Impact.

Another trailblazer in the U.S. government right now is Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). While the second Asian American woman elected to Congress, she is the first senator to give birth while in office and first female recipient of the Purple Heart military decoration to serve in the Senate. Her experience as a veteran of the Iraq War, during which time she lost both of her legs in combat, has carried through her public service in government, as she is a fierce advocate for veterans and disability rights. She uses her voice and position of power to push legislation that supports underserved and marginalized communities as well, notably with the Environmental Justice for All Act, which she introduced in 2021. The bill addresses the many environmental, public health, accessibility, legal, and financial challenges that marginalized communities face — the first legislation of its kind.

While Jackson, Baker, and Duckworth are making history as individuals in each branch of the federal government, there are also noteworthy laws making headway for women’s equity. The Ending Forced Arbitration for Sexual Assault and Harassment Act was signed into law in February and is designed to address concerns that arbitration agreements are used to shield allegations of sexual harassment and assault from public disclosure and protect those accused of harassment and abuse. The law specifically prohibits enforcement of predispute arbitration agreements or joint-action waivers in cases filed under federal, tribal, or state law that relate to sexual assault or sexual harassment, unless the person challenging the conduct agrees to move forward with an arbitration process outside of court. No such law previously protected victims of sexual harassment and assault (predominantly women) in the workplace.

Women’s History Month will continue to catalogue the women forging the path for equal rights and representation, and we at the Center for Progressive Reform will be here to recognize and celebrate their achievements.

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