International Women’s Day at the American Library

To recognize International Women’s Day this year, the American Library hosted Dr. Emma Long from the University of East Anglia to give a talk about the women of the United States Supreme Court. The idea for this talk came about as a chance to discuss who the women justices are and how women’s issues have been presented to the Supreme Court over the years. Little did we know when organizing this talk that just a few weeks later President Biden would announce that his first nominee to the Supreme Court would be an African American woman, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. This made Dr. Long’s talk especially timely and gave her a chance to teach us about the legacy of women on the Court.


Dr. Long titled her talk Five Women: The US Supreme Court in Recent History. Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman was appointed to the court by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. She has since been joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Amy Coney Barrett. Long walked us through the personal histories of each justice including their upbringing and careers prior to joining the Supreme Court. It is worth noting that these five women represent different regions of the United States, different religious backgrounds, and different careers in law. The diversity that they brought to the Supreme Court extended beyond their gender, as there have never been more women than men on the court.

Dr. Emma Long from the University of East Anglia

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Long’s talk was the detail of how the women were appointed to the Court. To become a Supreme Court Justice, individuals are appointed by the President of the United States then confirmed by the United States Senate. Justices must be approved by a majority vote, meaning at least 51 votes of approval are required. Long provided the details of how many members of the Senate voted in favour or opposition to each of the five women justices. As time has passed since 1981, the votes became less unanimous and more divisive over time. According to Long this trend has less to do with the individuals Justices and instead is indicative of the growing power struggle between conservative and liberal politicians in the Senate. The Supreme Court is intended to be apolitical, so this trend is concerning as it suggests the role of the Court is becoming more politicized than intended.

With the nomination of a new woman Supreme Court Justice, time will tell if this political trend continues under the present administration. With more women on the court than at any other moment in history, we will also see if this shift in representation brings any changes more broadly to court decisions. It is an exciting moment in history to see a Supreme Court that better represents the United States’ population and can bring those insights to the powerful decisions of the Court.

Post by Lauren Cortese, American Scholar

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One response to “International Women’s Day at the American Library

  1. Pingback: Women’s History Month at the American Library  | American Library

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