Mary M. Schroeder

Areas of Achievement: 

Women Lawyers ~ Women Leaders Arch

Mary Schroeder has a history of making firsts as a woman in the legal profession. She was born in 1940 in Boulder, Colorado, where her parents taught at the university. Her father was a speech professor with an emphasis on parliamentary procedure, and her mother also was a speech specialist. The family moved to Urbana, Illinois when her father accepted a position at the University of Illinois. Schroeder always liked university towns and found them wonderful places in which to grow up and raise children. However, the move to Illinois was quite a shock because of how flat the state was compared to the lovely mountainous state of Colorado. She attended grade school and high school in Illinois, but always knew that she wanted to return to the West someday. In 1962, Schroeder earned a Bachelor of Arts from Swarthmore College. She then earned her law degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1965, where she was one of only six women in the class. At first, law school had been challenging for the women because they were forced to live far away from the school, and the professors constantly called on them. During law school, she met her future husband, Milton R. Schroeder.

After graduating from law school, Schroeder began her legal career as a trial attorney in the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. She enjoyed working there because she had a lot of responsibility, and she was also able to do a lot of litigation work, which was very unusual for women at that time. After four years as a successful civil attorney, she moved to Arizona when her husband Milton accepted a faculty position at the Arizona State University College of Law. When she tried to enter private practice in Arizona, she found that none of the major firms had any women attorneys. Furthermore, they were not very receptive to hiring women. While earning Arizona residency, she served as a law clerk to Justice Jesse Udall of the Arizona Supreme Court. After finishing her clerkship, she joined the law firm of Lewis & Roca in 1971. She primarily practiced construction, labor and employment, and appellate law. As an employers' lawyer, she developed the reputation of always being fair to labor. When she became a partner of the firm in 1973, she was the first woman to achieve partnership in a large firm not only in Arizona, but also in the entire Rocky Mountain West. During this period, she became the first woman from Arizona to argue and win a case before the U.S. Supreme Court with Memorial Hospital v. Maricopa County, 415 U.S. 250 (1974). She also chaired the committee that drafted and enacted the state Civil Rights Act, Arizona's first civil rights law that included women. In 1975, Governor Raul Castro appointed her to Division One of the Arizona Court of Appeals. She became the first woman to serve on the Arizona Court of Appeals, and the youngest woman appellate judge in America at the time. Justice Lorna Lockwood, the first female Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, had encouraged her to apply for the appellate judge position; Schroeder does not think she would have applied otherwise. At the recommendation of Senator Dennis DeConcini, President Carter then appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1979. In 2000, Schroeder became the first woman to serve as Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit, the nation's largest judicial circuit. She served as Chief Judge for her maximum term of seven years, which ended in 2007.

Throughout her judicial career, Schroeder has decided many important cases and corrected many injustices. Among her noteworthy decisions is Hirabayashi v. U.S., 828 F.2d 591 (9th Cir. 1987), which fifty years after World War II found the internment of Japanese Americans unconstitutional. Her decision reversed two decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, which is incredibly difficult for a lower court to do. Schroeder also has issued influential opinions regarding discrimination against women in the workplace, including Gerdom v. Continental Airlines, Inc., 648 F.2d 1223 (9th Cir. 1981), rev'd en banc, 692 F.2d 602 (9th Cir. 1982). In Gerdom, the court invalidated an airline company's requirement of height and weight limitations for female flight attendants. In her opinion, she denounced 'the harmful effects of occupational clichÌös' and job classifications 'on the basis of gender stereotypes.'

Schroeder has been active in many professional organizations, including as a council member of the American Law Institute and a member of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Federal Judicial Improvements. She has served as President of the National Association of Women Judges. She has also served as an adjunct faculty member at various law schools, including Arizona State University and Duke University. She has been a mentor to many young lawyers who have served as her law clerks, including Janet Napolitano, John Sands, and Patricia Norris.

She has lived by the philosophy that the role of women is not to feminize the courts, but to humanize them. Schroeder considers '[her] greatest accomplishment is setting an example for other people of a woman successful in the legal profession and helping improve the legal system at the same time.'

Schroeder and her husband Milton live in Scottsdale and have two children, Carrie and Kate. Milton has taught at the Arizona State University College of Law for over thirty years.