Rethinking Gender Equality in the Legal Profession’s Pipeline to Power: A Study on Media Coverage of Supreme Court Nominees (Phase I, The Introduction Week)
Volume 84, No. 2, Winter 2012
By Hannah Brenner & Renee Newman Knake [PDF]

Three women now sit on the Supreme Court of the United States, and a fourth recently retired, suggesting the attainment of formal gender equality. Despite this appearance of progress, women remain significantly underrepresented in major leadership roles within the legal profession, where they face extensive gender bias and stereotyping. This gender bias and stereotyping is also leveraged against women who are featured in the media, illustrated vividly by coverage of the most recent Supreme Court nominations. Headlines from mainstream news, “Then Comes the Marriage Question” in the New York Times or “The Supreme Court Needs More Mothers” in the Washington Post, and from the online blog arena, “Elena Kagan v. Sonia Sotomayor: Who Wore it Better?” in or “Put a Mom on the Court” in, are just a sampling of those that emerged during the nomination period for Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, two highly accomplished, well-qualified nominees.

The gendered nature of these and other articles led us to conduct an empirical study using quantitative and qualitative content analysis to examine media coverage of every Supreme Court nominee since Justices Powell and Rehnquist, a starting point selected in light of the feminist movement’s influence at the time. Our project sits at the unique interdisciplinary intersection of law, gender studies, mass media, and political science. This Article presents results from the first phase of data analysis, looking at the week following a president’s announcement of a nominee, and we report five preliminary findings. In identifying these findings, we assess the gendered portrayals of nominees to the Court, and we reflect upon how this knowledge might motivate the resolution of gender disparity in the legal profession’s pipeline to power.

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