In 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female justice on the United States Supreme Court after centuries of male appointments, a watershed moment in the long struggle for gender equality. Yet few know about the remarkable women considered in the decades before her triumph.
Shortlisted tells the overlooked stories of nine extraordinary women—a cohort large enough to seat the entire Supreme Court—who appeared on presidential lists dating back to the 1930s. Florence Allen, the first female judge on the highest court in Ohio, was named repeatedly in those early years. Eight more followed, including Amalya Kearse, a federal appellate judge who was the first African American woman viewed as a potential Supreme Court nominee. Award-winning scholars Renee Knake Jefferson and Hannah Brenner Johnson cleverly weave together long-forgotten materials from presidential libraries and private archives to reveal the professional and personal lives of these accomplished women.
In addition to filling a notable historical gap, the book exposes the harms of shortlisting―it reveals how adding qualified female candidates to a list but passing over them ultimately creates the appearance of diversity while preserving the status quo. This phenomenon often occurs with any pursuit of professional advancement, whether the judge in the courtroom, the CEO in the corner office, or the coach on the playing field. Women, and especially female minorities, while as qualified as others on the shortlist (if not more so), find themselves far less likely to be chosen. With the stories of these nine exemplary women as a framework, Shortlisted offers all women a valuable set of strategies for upending the injustices that still endure. It is a must-read for those seeking positions of power as well as for the powerful who select them in the legal profession and beyond.
“This fascinating book reconstructs a chapter of women’s history that has been hiding in plain sight: the numerous qualified women whose names were floated for the Supreme Court but who never got there. Just as they were overlooked, so have their individual stories been — until now. ”
— Linda Greenhouse, New York Times contributing columnist
Renee Knake Jefferson is a law professor and an award-winning author whose work has been featured in BuzzFeed, CNN, National Public Radio, Slate, the Wall Street Journal, and other media. She holds the Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics at the University of Houston Law Center where she teaches ethics, constitutional law, and a writing seminar on gender, power, law, and leadership. In 2019, Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed her to the Michigan State University Board of Trustees. A Fulbright recipient and elected member of the American Law Institute, she regularly consults on matters related to lawyer/judicial ethics, gender diversity in leadership roles, and the first amendment and lawyer speech.
Hannah Brenner Johnson is a law professor and author. She is currently the Vice Dean for Academic and Student Affairs and Associate Professor of Law at California Western School of Law in San Diego. Her research interests surround intersections of law and gender, specifically focusing on gender-based violence in closed institutional systems and inequality in the legal profession.