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Gender Equity On the Rise

At the federal level, gender equity recently took two important strides forward: Michigan’s Solicitor General became the first Arab-American Muslim woman to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the U.S. Government has issued its first passport with a non-binary gender designation. Both developments demonstrate progress toward a more inclusive landscape for traditionally underrepresented communities.

I. First Arab-American Muslim Woman to Argue Before the U.S. Supreme Court

It may surprise some that the U.S. Supreme Court has never had an Arab-American Muslim woman argue before it. Until now. Attorney Fadwa Hammoud broke ground on October 5, 2021, by becoming the first — and certainly not last — woman of her background to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorney Hammoud, who is the Solicitor General for the State of Michigan, argued Brown v. Davenport, which involved a Michigan prisoner’s 6th Amendment right to a fair trial. The criminal defendant in that case argued that his constitutional rights were violated when he was presented to the jury in shackles. Attorney Hammoud argued on behalf of the State of Michigan that that issue constituted harmless error.

Attorney Hammoud emigrated from Lebanon when she was just 11 years old and settled in Dearborn, Michigan with her family upon arrival in the United States. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan-Dearborn and her Juris Doctor from the Wayne State University Law School. Attorney Hammoud is also the first Arab-American solicitor general in the United States. Attorney Hammoud joins a small — but nevertheless increasing — number of women who have argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Between October 2019 and May 2020, women lawyers argued just 20 times, or in 13% of the cases heard by the Court.

II. Non-Binary Gender Designation on Passport

The State Department has officially issued its first passport with a non-binary gender designation. Applicants may now select X” instead of F” or M.” The historic development was made possible because Dana Zzyym, an intersex and nonbinary Colorado resident and veteran of the U.S. Navy, argued in a lawsuit filed back in 2015 that obtaining a passport was impossible because the options only listed male” and female,” neither of which option matched Zzyym’s gender identity. 

The State Department had announced last June that this change to passports was coming and that applicants would be permitted to select their gender without providing medical certification if the gender on the application differed from a gender listed on another document such as a birth certificate. The United States now joins more than ten other countries including Canada, Germany, Australia, India, Malta, Nepal, and New Zealand which also permit individuals to choose a non-binary option on their passport applications.

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