A&E: Melina’s Booket List: ‘Shortlisted’

With the death of former Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Sept. 2020 and the nomination of her conservative replacement, Amy Coney Barrett, the history of female representation on the Supreme Court has been a prevalent topic. Hannah Brenner Johnson and Renee Knake Jefferson’s May 2020 book “Shortlisted: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court” reveals the lesser-known historical practice of “shortlisting” women as judges for the Supreme Court.

Shortlisting involves being placed on presidents’ lists of potential appointments for the Supreme Court but not ultimately selected. Commonly, presidents would publicly consider nominating a woman to gain voter support. 

“Shortlisted” is set up in two parts, the first delivering a brief profile of each nominee’s life and work in the judicial system, and the second commenting on the harms of shortlisting and offering broad steps women and government systems can take in overcoming this barrier to equality.

Johnson and Jefferson discuss the idea that women are not a monolithic group, despite many male leaders believing otherwise. The topic of tokenism is weaved throughout the book, which asserts that one married, white, cisgender and heteroseuxal woman does not represent all women. The book calls for intersectionality in feminism and criticizes the exclusionary nature of previous feminist movements.

These important points made by two white women in a book praising mostly white women were surprising. I soon wondered what they thought of Justice Barrett’s nomination, which was decided shortly after the publication of their book. 

Johnson and Jefferson wrote a piece for the New York Daily News titled “Amy Coney Barrett and the threat to women’s rights.” They recalled a 1952 case where the first female chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, Susie Sharp, despite her racist personal beliefs, argued against the segregation of municipal golf courses in North Carolina.

Johnson and Jefferson write, “(Sharp) sublimated her personal views to achieve justice. We hope that if Amy Coney Barrett is indeed confirmed in the bruising political battle to come, she will do the same…”

“Shortlisted” opened my eyes to an entire subset of history and a means of political power that is not taught in everyday curriculum let alone mentioned in major news sources. As I come of age in this decade, I hope that the stories of the women in this book and others like them are told, and that a woman’s chance at power is seen as more than a political strategy.