June 24, 2024


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Ask the authors: The long and winding road from shortlisted to selected for female Supreme Court nominees

Ask the authors: The long and winding road from shortlisted to selected for female Supreme Court nominees

The pursuing is a collection of questions posed by Ronald Collins to Renee Knake Jefferson and Hannah Brenner Johnson in relationship with their new e book, “Shortlisted: Ladies in the Shadows of the Supreme Court” (New York College Press, 2020), which tells the untold stories of females that presidents thought of as justices for the Supreme Court docket in the decades just before Sandra Working day O’Connor’s confirmation.

Renee Knake Jefferson is a professor of law and the Joanne and Larry Doherty Chair in Authorized Ethics and Director of Legislation Centre Outcomes and Assessments at the College of Houston Legislation Centre. She is an writer of two casebooks: “Professional Obligation: A Present-day Approach” (2020) and “Legal Ethics for the Genuine World: Making Capabilities As a result of Situation Study” (2018).

Hannah Brenner Johnson is Vice Dean for Educational and Pupil Affairs and an affiliate professor of law at California Western Faculty of Legislation. Her study pursuits include things like gender-centered violence and gender inequality in the authorized profession.

Johnson and Jefferson are also the authors of “Gender, Energy, Legislation & Leadership” (2019).

Welcome, Renee and Hannah, and thank you both equally for having the time to participate in this dilemma-and-answer for our viewers. And congratulations on the publication of your latest e book.

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Problem: Yours is a collaborative hard work. Convey to us about that and how the two of you get the job done.

Jefferson & Johnson: We have a longstanding friendship and collaborative performing relationship that extends more than the program of the previous ten years to the time when we both equally taught at Michigan State College Higher education of Legislation. Our initial study challenge grew out of individual hallway discussions and e-mails that we exchanged in the year amongst Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination and confirmation to the Supreme Court docket in August of 2009 and Justice Elena Kagan’s nomination and confirmation in 2010.

We ended up both equally stunned by some of the media protection of these two amazingly skilled females as they ended up currently being vetted for a position on the nation’s highest court docket (things like commentary on their sexuality, visual appeal and marital standing). These discussions led us to produce an empirical study challenge and, in its wake, solidified our relationship as both equally co-authors and pals. It also furnished prospect for our small children to acquire their have friendships as we spent time producing alongside one another and touring to present our scholarship at conferences, typically with the children in tow.

In people early several years we also co-directed the Frank J. Kelley Institute of Ethics at Michigan State and planned a amount of conferences, such as a symposium that dealt with gender inequality in the authorized profession. And of program we began performing on the shortlisted challenge. We’ve stayed committed to this get the job done, and our collaboration has ongoing even after shifting across the country to be a part of the faculties at different law educational facilities. Our producing system may perhaps be different from how other folks interact in collaborations we have extended loved sharing drafts of our get the job done and modifying just about every other’s phrases early on in the system. This was scary the really initial time we commenced producing alongside one another, as the sharing of preliminary unedited drafts involves a specified vulnerability but we acquired that we could have faith in just about every other.

We think this practice qualified prospects to a extra uniform voice for all of our get the job done. Generally, when we look back at our get the job done, it is difficult for possibly of us to recall who wrote what. Real to our practice, we took the similar strategy in answering the questions for this Q&A!


Problem: Your e book takes a shut look at the stories of females who ended up thought of – but not chosen – for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court docket. In the previous chapter you offer 8 techniques “for counteracting the biases and prejudices that endure” in opposition to experienced females in largely male-dominated fields. Is that your target viewers?

Jefferson & Johnson: Our target viewers is reasonably wide but certainly, it surely consists of females who are navigating their experienced paths. We are also attempting to get to people who occupy positions of electrical power and have the potential to assistance move females from shortlisted to chosen. It is important to be aware that when some of the techniques we determine may perhaps be beneficial on an personal foundation, we are potentially even extra interested in encouraging extra systemic or structural improve. Substantially of the e book, while, will enchantment to anyone interested in the history of this country or the Supreme Court docket variety system.

We also wrote the e book with our small children in intellect as the viewers, while when we commenced our youngest couldn’t even examine however! But we understood our daughters and sons would grow up in a planet in which gender inequality endures. We needed them to be impressed by the histories of these trailblazing females and to equip them with techniques for the get the job done that continues to be. So, pointless to say, our target viewers is rather wide. And it is been a particular joy to see our now-teenaged small children examining the e book.


Problem: This e book has its empirical roots in a examine the two of you carried out about gendered portrayals of Supreme Court docket nominees. Convey to us about that.

Jefferson & Johnson: As we mentioned, our initial interaction with just about every other involved our shared outrage encompassing the media’s sexist protection of Supreme Court docket nominees. We channeled this power into a study examine that explored how the media portrayed nominees to the Supreme Court docket as far back as President Richard Nixon’s attempts to fill the vacancies that in the long run went to William Rehnquist and Lewis Powell.

This challenge involved the systematic evaluation of more than four,000 newspaper posts revealed in the New York Situations and Washington Publish. We examine and coded each single write-up for a collection of variables that ranged from the intercourse of the reporter to regardless of whether the write-up mentioned the nominee’s visual appeal, sexuality, parental standing and extra. We surmised that the way Supreme Court docket nominees ended up currently being mentioned in mainstream media would reveal the knowledge of females leaders normally and give insight into the boundaries and hurdles that impede their development into positions of leadership and electrical power.

The examine uncovered a pattern of gendered portrayals of the woman nominees. It also uncovered extended-neglected presidential shortlists, just one of which integrated two females a ten years just before O’Connor turned the initial lady to be a part of the Supreme Court docket. We right away puzzled, ended up other females thought of? Who was the initial president to include things like a lady on his shortlist? This e book shares what we learned as we searched for answers.


Problem: On Oct fourteen, 1971, there was an unsigned piece in the New York Situations on opportunity Supreme Court docket nominees Nixon was then thinking about. Share with us how that fits into your knowledge in producing “Shortlisted.”

Jefferson & Johnson: It was in the midst of our Supreme Court docket media examine that we stumbled upon that write-up. We ended up stunned to find out that Nixon had shortlisted Sylvia Bacon, a choose from Washington, D.C., and Mildred Lillie, a choose from California, as he was confronted with two vacancies on the court docket. We had by no means listened to of these females and ended up unaware that any females had been thought of for the court docket just before O’Connor. We ended up stunned at the way Lillie was explained by the writer as possessing “maintained a bathing beauty determine.” It was absurd that an personal thought of as a nominee for the nation’s highest court docket would be critiqued centered on her visual appeal in a swimsuit. We also ended up struck by the author’s reference to her childless standing.

Although we understood that this commentary was consistent with the pervasive sexism of that era (and the findings of our media examine), we ended up extra curious about the idea that other females had been shortlisted just before O’Connor. And so began our journey by presidential papers, information accounts and non-public archives. We acquired that in fact, nine females had been shortlisted but by no means chosen for the Supreme Court docket, dating back as far as the thirties.


Problem: You admit your indebtedness to Professor Christine Nemacheck. What was her get the job done and how did it impact yours?

Jefferson & Johnson: Compared with for other positions in govt, there is no unified system of selecting—or shortlisting—individuals to provide on the Supreme Court docket. In actuality, the Supreme Court docket judicial variety system is perfectly regarded by scholars to be just one of the most tricky to examine. Presidents have not retained uniform records of whom they thought of for the court docket. President Donald Trump was the initial to make general public his shortlist, which was outstanding in his marketing campaign and officially posted on the White Residence website after his election.

Nemacheck is a political scientist who has researched Supreme Court docket nominees and, as a starting place, we relied on her fantastic e book, “Strategic Range: Presidential Nomination of Supreme Court docket Justices From Herbert Hoover As a result of George W. Bush,” to discern who, exactly, may perhaps have appeared on presidential shortlists. Having said that, we departed from Nemacheck’s method in two sites. We identified Florence Ellinwood Allen, and not Soia Mentschikoff, as the initial lady to be shortlisted, and additional Sylvia Bacon to the listing. As a result of this challenge we made a profound appreciation for historians and scholars like Nemacheck, as it can be amazingly hard to piece alongside one another precise reflections of the past. We learned competing accounts of history and tried to place these out to our viewers.

We integrated a be aware about this system in the book’s appendix, and call for other scholars to carry on this hard work to better account for untold and/or extended-neglected features of our history, specifically women’s history.


Problem: A amount of females are profiled in your e book. How do these females match into what you refer to as “collective storying telling”? Convey to us extra about what you indicate by that and your call for systemic improve.

Jefferson & Johnson: In addition to the nine shortlisted just before O’Connor, we also include things like a few females who appeared on President Ronald Reagan’s subsequent shortlists and the five females who went on to be nominated. Every single of the females profiled in our e book could be the subject matter of an complete study examine. They are all amazingly gifted, attained, sophisticated females who have blazed uncharted paths into positions of leadership and electrical power. Some have beforehand been studied, while only two of the females shortlisted just before O’Connor have been the subject matter of guides. We think that just one of the most effective features of this challenge is the collective story that we convey to about this cohort of females who ended up skilled to provide on the Supreme Court docket, but by no means chosen.

We have written about common themes that unite them, but in numerous respects they could not be extra different from just one one more. They characterize, collectively, the worth of varied representation on the Supreme Court docket and over and above. In telling their stories in this way, we uncovered a phenomenon we did not established out to find—what we outline as a nominee who is “qualified for a position but not chosen from a listing that creates the visual appeal of diversity but preserves the standing quo.”

This principle of currently being “shortlisted” allows demonstrate why it took so extended for a lady to make it onto the court docket, and we imagine that it also allows demonstrate why females are not mirrored in numbers equivalent to men in all positions of leadership and electrical power. It is not the only rationalization, but it is just one structural source of ongoing inequality. If just one only appears at an personal woman’s story, it is hard to see this phenomenon. But on the lookout at their stories alongside one another? It is difficult to disregard it.


Problem: There are some notable woman appellate judges who ended up by no means formally shortlisted but ended up informally thought of and whose names circulated in the press. Can you convey to us a tiny little bit about people females and their fates?

Jefferson & Johnson: Our listing of shortlisted females in the e book consists of only the females for whom we could locate actual documentation of currently being formally thought of by a president. But, unquestionably, as you recommend, there ended up a amount of other extremely skilled females whose names ended up circulated in the media and also sent to presidents for thing to consider, such as Chief Choose Alice Batchelder of the U.S. Court docket of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, Priscilla Owen of the U.S. Court docket of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, Shirley Hufstedler of the U.S. Court docket of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and Patricia Wald of the U.S. Court docket of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, just to title a handful of. President Jimmy Carter was broadly regarded to have thought of Hufstedler as his initial alternative for the court docket, but of program he by no means had a vacancy to fill.


Problem: Share with us how your instance of Carter, who by no means nominated anyone to the Supreme Court docket, and Choose Amalya Kearse, who was by no means nominated to that court docket, illustrates just one of the techniques for improve encouraged in your book’s previous chapter.

Jefferson & Johnson: Just one of our overarching suggestions in this e book is to motivate systemic transformation, not just improve at the personal degree. Carter exemplified this strategy when he issued an government get that established judicial nominating commissions for the federal circuit courts in 1977. Thirteen panels ended up established symbolizing locations across the country, with a certain mandate that just about every include things like men, females and minorities. The panels ended up directed to nominate candidates who had actively championed diversity. Hence, the panels questioned:

  • “How have you labored to even more civil legal rights, women’s legal rights, or the legal rights of other deprived groups on a national, point out or area degree?”
  • “How numerous females attorneys and minority attorneys does your business office or law firm include things like?”
  • “How numerous females associates?”
  • “Minority associates?”
  • “What do you imagine the most important authorized troubles of females and minorities will be more than the future handful of several years?”
  • “How really should these troubles be remedied?”

Panel users integrated Kearse, who at the time was nonetheless training law at Hughes, Hubbard & Reed in New York. She would afterwards go on to be chosen by just one of people commissions, and she was verified to the U.S. Court docket of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit on June 25, 1979.

Carter understood that just one of the most effective roles of a president is the appointment of judges, who previous extended over and above the president’s phrase. By the end of his presidency, Carter had appointed and the Senate had verified 41 females, extra than all presidents just before him combined.


Problem: You create of the “potential harms of currently being shortlisted.” As you see it, is it better or worse to be shortlisted, and why?

Jefferson & Johnson: Well, it is ideal to be both equally shortlisted and chosen. Our problem is that a shortlist can manipulate the general public into believing that its creator has positioned no gender or race boundaries to a coveted position even while the best aim was generally to protect the standing quo. Of program, just one requires to be on the shortlist to be chosen. It is a required and important initial phase toward currently being picked. It is an honor. But, when the shortlisting of females and minorities is a hollow gesture, it demeans not only the personal, but society’s perception that merit really should override gendered and racial prejudices.

The information that is sent by systemic shortlisting may perhaps discourage other folks from putting by themselves ahead. The dearth of females and minorities on the Supreme Court docket and in other positions of leadership and electrical power alerts that these alternatives are just not obtainable and not worthy of enduring the typically grueling scrutiny that will come from currently being on the shortlist.


Problem: Ahead of the 2016 election, then-candidate Trump publicly announced his shortlist of probable candidates for the Supreme Court docket.

On the just one hand, you feel skeptical of this: These kinds of lists, you create, lend “the auspices of diversity and equality to the nomination system but in the long run preserv[e] the standing quo.” On the other hand, you argue that “[s]unlight is required on the shortlists … [and we] want precise information and transparency about who is shortlisted, not just for the Supreme Court docket, but across professions and in all positions of leadership and electrical power.”

Can you say a little bit extra about your imagining on this make a difference?

Jefferson & Johnson: We imagine that these sentiments are both equally accurate. We unquestionably want transparency encompassing who would make it onto the shortlist, as this practice is revelatory and may perhaps in actuality motivate people who are executing the picking to be extra inclusive. These kinds of transparency permits us to better understand what is in fact taking place and regardless of whether shortlisted females and minorities are mere window dressing or actual respectable candidates. It also permits us to take a look at who ascends. We also admit that even transparency only goes so far.

It is worthy of noting that the recent president’s shortlists have thus far resulted in the appointment of extra men, and less minorities, to the federal bench than his the latest predecessors from both equally get-togethers. By contrast, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, has committed to decide on both equally his vice president and a Supreme Court docket justice, really should he have the prospect to fill a vacancy, from all-woman shortlists.


Problem: Although duly appreciative of the achievements of the four “waves of feminism,” you even so get exception to “a common omission in just about every wave of women’s legal rights because [its] early accumulating [in Seneca Falls]”: the thing to consider of minority females. Would you elaborate?

Jefferson & Johnson: The voices of females of colour have routinely been left out of the feminist movement. Most of the grievances expressed by the females at Seneca Falls ended up concentrated on white middle course females. Lots of of the activists in the suffrage movement ended up eager to exclude their black sisters out of problem that race would impede their potential to obtain the correct to vote. “Women” has not been synonymous with the knowledge of all females, and as well typically feminism has unsuccessful to admit the numerous levels of our intersectional identities.


Problem: The late Choose Cornelia Kennedy was nominated to a federal district court docket in 1970 by Nixon, and afterwards elevated in 1979 by Carter to provide on the 6th Circuit. Presidents Gerald Ford and Reagan both equally thought of her for the Supreme Court docket. But almost nothing at any time arrived of it. Why?

Please also convey to our viewers how Kennedy modified just one of the Supreme Court’s extended-standing traditions.

Jefferson & Johnson: It is hard to know exactly why Kennedy was by no means chosen. She would seem to have occur nearer than anyone else in our examine. When Reagan was deciding amongst Kennedy and O’Connor, longevity on the court docket was likely a element: Kennedy was six several years more mature than O’Connor. This was Kennedy’s partial rationalization. But we also suspect that politics and lobbying behind the scenes impacted Reagan’s choice.

Our nation’s history has numerous examples of physical constructions mirroring social coverage. “Colored” and “whites-only” prepare depots men-only golf equipment the forced relocation of Japanese American citizens through World War II. Equally, numerous physical constructions in place when shortlisted females ended up thought of assumed that men ended up singularly skilled to occupy positions of leadership. For instance, there was no non-public bathroom for O’Connor when she joined the Supreme Court docket. But that was not the only structural impediment that required consideration.

Traditionally, Supreme Court docket justices ended up referred to as “Mr. Justice” both equally on the bench and on the nameplates on their business office doorways. Kennedy located herself collaborating in a law university moot court docket competitiveness with Justice John Paul Stevens. The university student participants repeatedly referred to Kennedy as “Madam Justice.” Kennedy turned irritated with this reference and questioned the want for the gendered honorific rather than merely the term “Justice.” This interlude sparked some thing in Stevens, who took the information back to Washington and, extended story shorter, convinced the justices that it was time to clear away the honorific “Mr.” from their chamber doorways as perfectly as from their references to just about every other.


Problem: As you be aware in chapter a few, Chief Justice Warren Burger performed a part in assisting to get O’Connor on the court docket. Among the other things, when O’Connor was nonetheless a point out appellate choose, Burger positioned her on quite a few national and international judicial panels in get to give her higher national visibility. Moreover, it helped that on the eve of her nomination she revealed an write-up in the William and Mary Legislation Critique on the relationship amongst federal and point out courts. All of this details to a circuitous route to securing a seat on the court docket. How does that determine into your strategic calculus for an individual hoping to safe a nomination to the Supreme Court docket?

Jefferson & Johnson: In addition to qualifications, connections make a difference both equally in the development of a shortlist and in elevation from it. Some routes are immediate some are circuitous but none really should bar variety centered on an immutable characteristic like gender. Hence, we admire Mentschikoff’s experienced and individual relationship with Karl Llewellyn, who definitely opened doorways. But without her commanding intellect and her principal part as reporter to the American Legislation Institute on its Uniform Commercial Code publication, she would by no means have been thought of for a position on the Supreme Court docket.

To be sure, securing a seat on the Supreme Court docket involves specified credentials, together with a little bit of luck and the correct timing. We never indicate to recommend in any way that the techniques of the females profiled in our e book or the suggestions we make in the ultimate chapter offer a sure-fire route to the bench. But there are lessons to be acquired for securing leadership roles, not only on the court docket but also perfectly over and above it.


Problem: In addition to the aspirational side of your e book, I sense that there may perhaps be a kind of realist state of mind at get the job done. For instance, you counsel that females “[c]hoose individual associates – regardless of whether in friendship or in romance – who value one’s experienced lifestyle and enable for the risk of non-standard associations.”

Are you expressing that the individual is political?

Jefferson & Johnson: We gleaned a large amount from our exploration of the individual life of the shortlisted females and how their individual life impacted their thriving experienced trajectories. Relationships make a difference in the attainment of positions of leadership and electrical power. All of the females on our shortlist relied on their academic, relatives, individual and/or general public ties to reach achievements. This was also accurate of the extra than one hundred men who preceded O’Connor. The big difference is that the men’s characteristics, combined with their individual and political associations, secured seats on the highest court docket in the land.

Our information is that females, like their male counterparts, really should not shy absent from nurturing associations that advance their ascension to pinnacles of electrical power. Our individual, personal life can have a immediate bearing on what we do professionally. And, regardless of whether we like it or not, politics typically plays a part in what we can do at house and at get the job done.


Problem: Now that “Shortlisted” is out, what are your plans? For instance, have you given any assumed to executing a examine (see in this article also) of woman legal professionals who have argued just before the Supreme Court docket?

Jefferson & Johnson: Proper now we are reveling in the start of this e book, whilst numerous of our plans are casualties of the coronavirus. We had quite a few e book talks scheduled that have been postponed or transitioned to Zoom sessions. But certainly, we are intrigued by the examples of females arguing just before the Supreme Court docket, by the dozens of females who have led their point out courts as chief justice and by the continuing suppression of minority females in these roles. And our viewers, like you, have given us a great deal food stuff for assumed. Continue to be tuned!


Problem: You shut your e book with this: “When President Obama greeted Justice Ginsburg at Justice Kagan’s swearing in, he questioned, ‘Are you joyful that I introduced you two females?’ She replied, ‘Yes, but I’ll be happier when you bring me five extra.’”

Why end at 8?

Jefferson & Johnson: Good dilemma! A court docket that demonstrates the diversity of our profession and the folks it serves is an important intention. We really should also get the job done hard to resist the principle of a monolithic “woman’s voice.” On the lookout at the court’s loaded history, we never attach just one viewpoint or singular identification to the male justices or to the two African American justices who have served.

We would unquestionably like to see an ever more varied court docket loaded with females and minority justices whose views on the law are educated by differences in geography, schooling, race, gender, ethnicity, lifestyle knowledge and extra.

We would like Presidents Herbert Hoover or Franklin Roosevelt had been bold sufficient to nominate Florence Allen in the thirties. Imagine how a choice like that would have modified the program of her story, and of history.

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