The Court of International Trade: Trailblazer for Women in the Judiciary

Judge Genevieve Rose Cline

The history of the Court of International Trade (CIT) mirrors the very history of the Republic itself.   As our fledgling nation was establishing its roots, it gained the revenue necessary for its survival largely through tariffs on imports.  In 1789, the first tribunal to hear disputes over the imposition of these tariffs was born in the form of an executive branch institution called the Board of General Appraisers.  Tariffs remained the dominant source of government revenue through the 1950s, and over this time, the importance of tariff revenue was reflected in the role of the Board, as it transformed into an Article I and then Article III Court of the United States.

With the emergence of income taxes as the predominant source of revenue to the United States treasury, the role of the Court of International Trade did not diminish.  Indeed, as the United States became a dominant player on the world stage, the powers of the Court were expanded.  Antidumping and countervailing duties emerged as an important trade remedy in international commerce.  In 1980, the Court’s jurisdiction was expanded to include these important cases.  It was hoped that giving a federal court exclusive jurisdiction over these types of cases would release some of the major tensions that were developing with our trading partners in this area.  With the U.S. becoming the economic world leader, it was crucial for our judicial system to have a mechanism for handling these international trade disputes quickly and efficiently.  The U.S. Court of International Trade, as it stands today, is the tribunal that accomplishes this important function.

The Court’s history is intertwined with the history of the United States in other important ways as well.  As women became more active in the governing institutions of our young nation, the Customs Court (a predecessor to the CIT) welcomed the first female federal judge.  This was an important milestone because it paved the way for all the women judges who now serve in the federal court system.  Today, fully one third of federal judges are women.  All of them owe a debt of gratitude to Genevieve Rose Cline, who was nominated to serve on the bench in 1928 by President Calvin Coolidge.  She was well suited for a position on the Customs Court because she had already broken ground by serving as the first woman assigned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury to be the appraiser of merchandise at the port of Cleveland, Ohio.   An active proponent of woman’s rights and the suffrage movement, she served for 25 years on the U.S. Customs Court.  Clearly, Judge Cline was a trailblazer who knew how to accept tough challenges and succeed.

Although a few other female judges followed Judge Cline in the district courts and the courts of appeals, the appointments of women were few and far between.  Indeed, for the entire decade of the 1950s, only one female federal judge was appointed.  Mary Honor Donlon was nominated by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1955 to the U.S. Customs Court.  She filled the vacancy left by Judge Cline.  Interestingly, that is not the only overlap between these two women.  In 1928, while Judge Cline was crashing through barriers to attain her “first” for women, Judge Donlon also achieved a “first” – she became the first woman partner at a Wall Street firm that same year.  Judge Donlon served for 22 years as a judge of the Customs Court.

In 1980, the Court changed its name from the Customs Court to the Court of International Trade, and soon thereafter the CIT had its first female judge.  Jane Restani was appointed by President Reagan to the Court in 1983.  She continues to serve on the Court as a senior judge today.  While she has many female colleagues at the present time, Judge Restani served for quite some time before a female judge joined her on the Court’s bench.  But then she welcomed two female judges at once.  President Clinton appointed Judges Judith Barzilay and Delissa Ridgway to the CIT in 1998.  It was another 15 years before this cadre of female judges would be joined by another, when Claire Kelly was appointed to serve on the Court by President Obama in 2013.  Finally, the Court’s newest female judge, Jennifer Choe-Groves, was appointed by President Obama just last year.

Many people are aware of the CIT’s important role in the international trade regime.  Fewer will know that it also has been a major tool of progress for women’s equality.  When Judge Cline initially entered into the federal judiciary, I am sure she could not have imagined a day when women would so uneventfully become confirmed as federal judges.   And, upon reflection, the vast majority of the progress occurred in the relatively modern era.  Judge Restani, who continues to hear cases at the CIT, labored as the lone female voice on the Court for 15 years.  Now, female judges are joining the bench with relative ease.  Half of the judges nominated to be judges of the CIT in the present century have been women, and, as such, one third of the Court as it is currently composed are female.


About the Author:  Tina Potuto Kimble | Clerk of the Court U.S. Court of International Trade – Tina Kimble is the Clerk of the Court of the U.S. Court of International Trade, where she has served since 2006. Prior to coming to the U.S. Court of International Trade, she was an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, an attorney at the International Trade Commission, and an attorney at Steptoe & Johnson, LLP.


The views expressed by the author(s) of article(s) published in this newsletter are their personal views and should not be interpreted as the views of The Association of Women in International Trade (WIIT) or its individual members. See full disclaimer here.