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UH Law Center expert on gender, law and politics available for comment on Harris' historic VP nomination

Renee Knake of the University of Houston Law Center will be one of four distinguished speakers at an event commemorating women’s suffrage in April.

University of Houston Law Center Professor Renee Knake Jefferson

Aug. 11, 2020 - Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Sen. Kamala Harris as his pick for vice president in an announcement on Tuesday, making good on his pledge to select a woman running mate. Harris' selection marks the first Black woman will appear on a major party presidential ticket.

University of Houston Law Center Professor Renee Knake Jefferson, whose scholarship focuses on the intersection of women, politics and the legal profession is available for media inquiries on Harris' unique nomination.

“Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate marks an extraordinary moment in this nation’s journey toward equality,” Knake Jefferson said. “He had an incredibly strong list of female candidates on his shortlist, and if he becomes president, I hope Biden places many of those women in his cabinet and in other leadership roles in his administration.”

Knake Jefferson is an expert on the phenomenon of “shortlisting” – the creation of and selection from lists of candidates for positions of leadership. Biden’s shortlist has, unique in our nation’s history, declared that men are not eligible for his selection of a running mate for vice president or for his first Supreme Court appointment, should he face a vacancy.

In her book “SHORTLISTED: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court” (New York University Press, May 2020), Knake Jefferson and co-author Hannah Brenner Johnson examine the personal and professional lives of nine women who were considered, and ultimately passed over, for seats on the Supreme Court before Sandra Day O’Connor became the first.  

The book has been called, “fascinating” by Linda Greenhouse, New York Times Supreme Court columnist, and “an important addition to the literature about the Supreme Court, the process of nominating justices, and the role of gender,” by Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.

“Women, and especially minority women, are significantly underrepresented in positions of power and leadership across all sectors even though they have the same qualifications as men in these roles,” Knake Jefferson said. “One way to address this is for women to hold prominent, national positions like the vice presidency or the presidency itself. Visibility matters.”

Knake Jefferson holds the Joanne and Larry Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics and is director of Law Center Outcomes and Assessments. She earned her J.D. at the University of Chicago Law School, and teaches Constitutional Law, Professional Responsibility, and a seminar on Gender, Power, Law & Leadership at the Law Center. She was awarded the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University from January-July 2019. She is an elected member of the American Law Institute, and chair of the American Association of Law Schools Section on Professional Responsibility.

In December 2019, Knake Jefferson was appointed to the Michigan State Board of Trustees, as the university recovers from a sex abuse scandal involving a gymnastics team doctor that resulted in criminal charges, top level resignations, a federal fine of $4.5 million for failing to report and address the abuse claims, and a $500 million civil settlement with abused young women.

If you are interested in including Professor Knake Jefferson in any of your coverage on Biden's vice presidential selection process or his pledge to nominate the first African-American woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, please contact uhlawcom@uh.edu John Brannen, Media Relations Rep and Senior Writer, jtbranne@central.uh.edu or Carrie Anna Criado, UH Law Center Assistant Dean of Communications and Marketing, cacriado@central.uh.edu.