It has long galled feminists that the federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals -- which serves seven states, including Minnesota -- is composed of 10 men and only one woman, Diana Murphy of Minneapolis. Appointed in 1994, Murphy is the first and only female jurist ever to serve on that appellate bench. Only one of the other 10 federal circuit courts has a gender imbalance that large.

That's why the opportunity that has recently arisen to add more feminine representation on that court has stirred the Infinity Project into action. Infinity, based at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, was created several years ago to advocate for the appointment of more women judges to the Eighth Circuit Court.

Judge Michael Melloy of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has announced that he will move to senior status in January. President Obama is charged with appointing his replacement, but typically the White House gives much deference to the nominees of senators from the home state of the departing judge and from the president's political party.

That means that Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin is suddenly getting a surge of mail and calls from Minnesota -- and why he may have heard a cheer from the north today when the Des Moines Register reported that he has sent the names of two nominees -- both female -- to the president.

That's an encouraging move, but it's not the end of this appointment story, said Infinity executive director Debra Fitzpatrick. She hopes people who value gender diversity in the judiciary will keep the pressure on through the next appointee's U.S. Senate confirmation. For more information, go to



Democrats need to get serious

As bipartisan negotiations over avoiding the "fiscal cliff" draw nearer, many of President Obama's core Democratic supporters are urging him to fix the debt through defense cuts and tax increases rather than by tackling Social Security, Medicare and other federal entitlement programs. It's a reprise of progressive resistance to the entitlement trims Obama contemplated during the abortive debt-reduction negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner last year. This time, though, the Democratic base is claiming vindication in the just-completed election.

Fair enough. Obama won on a pledge to raise more revenue from the wealthy, and labor unions and like-minded groups provided much of the funding and many of the foot soldiers for his campaign. Nevertheless, on this he must tell his political base no. Any serious debt-reduction plan has to include revenue and defense cuts. But no serious one can exclude entitlements.

At his news conference Wednesday, Obama called for "a serious look at how we reform our entitlements," advocated "compromise" and pronounced himself "ready and willing to make big commitments" on debt reduction. Sounds like a man who understands what is needed.