MSJDN has been very open about their strong support for Patricia Ann Millett‘s nomination for U.S. Appeals Court for the Washington, D.C., Circuit. On October 31, 2013, Pattie’s nomination was blocked by Senate Republicans because of unrelated party politics. Pattie has extensive experience in arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and has been called “extraordinarily qualified” by both sides of the aisle.  She is also a military spouse.  There are many fine reasons to support Pattie Millett, but having her succeed is especially important to military spouses.

Perception.  Military spouses are called “dependents” by the government. Many people think that is exactly what they are – dependent on their service member spouse. It’s a perception that must be changed. Having a military spouse like Pattie Millett succeed in becoming a federal judge will serve to help change the prevailing public perception of a dependent military spouse.  In fact, military spouses are intelligent, educated individuals with their own careers and their own value to add to society. They are doctors, nurses, teachers, web site designers, business people, and attorneys. However, many MSJDN members report that one of the stumbling blocks to achieving gainful employment is a perception that they are simply dependents. There is an attitude that the service member’s career takes precedence, and that any job the spouse can obtain is just extra money. Just a job, not a career.

MSJDN conducted a survey of its members in September of this year, which collected information about how perceptions have stunted their careers. Some of our member stories include:

  • Janice* tells of a last-round interview with a mid-sized firm. When an original partner asked her why she had moved so many times, she answered honestly that she was a military spouse. The conversation immediately shifted, and she was not offered the position. Samara had a very similar experience. She felt like the interview came to a distinct halt as soon as she revealed her military spouse status.  The interviewer said, “Oh, I was looking for someone long term.”
  • Kathryn was able to gain legal employment, but was not able to advance. The firm assumed that she would be unable to handle the demanding hours and that she may be too emotional when her husband deployed.
  • Sheniece believes she achieved her current position in part due to the fact she did not reveal her husband’s occupation during the interview process. Melissa was specifically asked if her husband planned on staying active duty.

Many military spouse attorneys report how concerned their employers are with their impending moves, rather than with the value they will be able to bring to a firm. The perception that a military spouse is a short timer continues even though the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in a 2012 longitudinal survey that their average civilian respondent held 11.3 jobs over the ages of 18 to 46 — meaning on average, a member of the general public changes his or her employer every 2.5 years, or six months short of a standard military tour. Also not considered is that many military families are able to extend their tours in certain areas. Additionally, the majority of military spouse attorneys are very open to telecommuting. Even when talking with respect to potential length of employment, there is essentially no difference between hiring a military spouse and anyone else. If the perception can be shifted, this hurdle can also be overcome.

Having a smart, capable military spouse attorney in a high-visibility position will change the perception of the military spouse. This is one reason why Pattie’s confirmation as a federal judge is so important to MSJDN.

Representation.  Star Trek’s Nyota Uhura was played by Nichelle Nichols, a black actress, on the original TV series. When then-nine-year-old Whoopi Goldberg first saw Uhura on the show, she famously exclaimed, “I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’  I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be…” 

Representation is motivating and inspiring. Having Pattie Millett succeed in being confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is so important to all military spouses, especially to MSJDN members who can see part of themselves in her.

Our member survey data reinforced MSJDN’s regular assertion that being a military spouse while trying to maintain a career can be a very disheartening prospect.

  • Though Mariana has a JD/MBA, she is dejected about job prospects due to her military spouse status.
  • Shawn stopped looking for employment in the legal field after relocating with his service member spouse to a new jurisdiction where he is not licensed, as did Emily.
  • Samantha has been unemployed for two years, but is still looking for a job in the legal field.

Numerous MSJDN members are under-employed, and feel frustrated that they are able to offer so much more to their communities.

Pattie shows that military spouses can have their own careers, not just temporary jobs. MSJDN members who sacrificed to earn their juris doctor look to Pattie and see that they, too, will be able to effect the positive changes they dreamed about as wide-eyed law students, all while serving their country as a military spouse. Witnessing one of their own achieve the highest levels of the profession is motivating and personally inspiring on a very deep level.

Military Issues.  Though the digital age has flattened the world, the legal profession retains many aspects of the traditional notion of employment. Very few employers allow such options as flexible hours to account for spousal deployment obligations or telecommuting to reduce change of duty disruptions or travel restrictions. Another issue that many military spouse attorneys report having is problems in obtaining licensing so they may practice in various states. One of MSJDN’s primary missions is to work with state licensing boards to make the process more feasible for military spouses who are moving with their service member.

As a military spouse herself for over 15 years, Pattie has a unique perspective on many military issues. She knows the topics first hand because she has lived them, and she understands how her decisions will affect every day life for service members. She can help. Will she address MSJDN specific issues directly, and will all her decisions be in line with their way of thinking? Of course not, but knowing that her vote on the D.C. Circuit comes from a place of understanding a military spouse perspective is incredibly important.

MSJDN members are very proud of their service members’ selfless service and the supportive role they are able to play. That is one reason that, as a family, they decide to continue their military service to their beloved country. While there are admittedly frustrations in the career of the civilian spouse, the immediate reaction is not to abandon the military way of life.  It is to try to overcome the frustrations.

As lawyers, we are taught to advocate justice, equality, and the best way of doing things. MSJDN members are trying to change perceptions and rules on an individual level to integrate their two worlds.  Confirming Patricia Millett to the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit is a very important step in bridging the divide. MSJDN continues to offer its strong support and encourages others to voice their support for this overall amazing candidate as well.

*All names are pseudonyms.