April 17, 2020 — University of Houston Law Center Professor Renee Knake examines the personal and professional lives of nine women who were considered, and ultimately passed over, for seats on the U.S. Supreme Court in a book scheduled for release in May.
“SHORTLISTED: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court” (NYU Press) tells the stories of the highly qualified female jurists who were included on presidential lists of potential nominees dating back to the 1930s. Each seat went to a male until 1981 when President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor. To date, only four of the 114 justices, or 3.5 percent, have been women.
Knake and her co-author, Hannah Brenner Johnson, argue the practice of floating the name of a female candidate was designed solely to give the appearance of diversity, a practice that continues today across the spectrum of professions.
“It has been long thought that as more women entered the workforce, they would naturally ascend to leadership roles, but time has not borne that out,” explained Knake. “Our book exposes structural problems that keep women, and especially minority women, back.
“At the University of Houston, our entering class for the past two years has been majority female,” said Knake. “The strategies we identify in the book, drawn from the inspiring lives of women considered for the Supreme Court, will help those women go on to assume positions of leadership and power in similar numbers.”
Knake is a professor of law and holds the Joanne and Larry Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics at the Law Center. She teaches courses on constitutional law, legal ethics and leadership. Johnson is the vice dean for Academic and Student Affairs and an associate professor of law at California Western School of Law in San Diego.
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