ITHACA, N.Y.—Elizabeth Aherne spends her time in and out of the courtroom as a judge on the New York State Supreme Court. Her position lets her follow her passions, but it allows her to show young women that they can be whatever they want to be — no role is too small or out of reach.
Aherne said that running for this position was not something she had initially aspired to do, until local attorneys asked her to run for the position and she saw the public service elements of the job.
“I have always had an element of public service in my career and in my life,” she said. “And that started when I was at Cornell. And so that was really what drew me to [the New York State Supreme Court] was the public service component.”
Aherne graduated from Cornell University in 1995 as an economics major after transferring from the University of Michigan and said she fell in love with Ithaca and Cornell. She spent every summer in Ithaca working as a residential adviser for high school students in a summer program and also became the first woman hired to work at the bell stand at the Statler Hotel on Cornell’s campus.
After Cornell, Aherne moved to Washington, D.C. to receive her Juris Doctor from Georgetown University and graduated in 1999. She worked for the New York-based law firm Cadwalader Wickersham and Taft LLP and later worked for the London-based firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP. Aherne moved back to Ithaca in 2006 and worked with Schlather, Stumbar, Parks and Salk LLP before opening her own law practice to focus on pursuing her dream of child advocacy.
“Lots of my dreams have come true,” she said. “Some people really aspire to be a judge, but like I said, it wasn’t something that I aspired to do, but it was definitely a calling I felt I needed to do.”
Aherne said that being a woman in this role is important, made even more significant since she is the first to do so. She said she thinks it is important for her three sons to see a woman hold this position. Additionally, she said it is meaningful for young girls and women to see her hold such a high-ranking position.
“I think that little girls are raised to doubt their voices and I think that [women] experience life differently from men,” Aherne said. “The first thing I would say is not to doubt yourself, that you have worth and what you can achieve.”
In 2020, 37.4% of lawyers in the United States were women. As of March 17, 2022 there are 203 women judges in the district courts and 418 men. In the circuit courts there are 60 women and 115 men and in the Supreme Court of the United States three of the nine judges are women.
Aherne also said that women have a lot of compassion and empathy, which she thinks is important in her job especially when dealing with cases involving families and children. She said her passion for handling cases dealing with children stems from her love of children. Aherne said seeing her mother, a British immigrant, work with children as a teacher’s aide inspired her.
“I believe that children are the most vulnerable along with the elderly populations and they’re really at the heart of our entire society and they need to be protected,” Aherne said.
She said her love for Ithaca is what made her want to settle after having her first son. Aherne said she believes that anyone can be anything they want in Ithaca. She said she knew if she was going to be a child advocate, she would do it in Ithaca.
She was elected in November 2022 and her term will last for 14 years.