This is my first visit to the Lounge, and I want to thank Al and Dan and the crew for inviting me to post. As the outgoing chair of the AALS Section on Legal History, I thought I would begin with some shameless promotion of the fantastic panel on women’s legal history we have at AALS this coming Saturday afternoon. This is a joint program with the Section on Women in Legal Education (chaired by my friend and colleague, Kirsten Davis), and is co-sponsored by the Section on Constitutional Law. Many readers will know already that the highlight of the panel (and of the conference) is a conversation with Justice Ginsburg, hosted by Wendy Williams. Justice Ginsburg has been called the “Thurgood Marshall” of women’s rights, and while that moniker elides important differences in history, context, personality, etc., it certainly captures the significance of her role. I will reserve a future post to explore some thoughts on what is said at the AALS program, but it is particularly fitting to have the Justice at this joint program since, in addition to her pivotal role in the modern history of women’s rights, she was also a founder of the Section for Women in Legal Education and a trailblazer for women in our profession, as this paper by Herma Hill Kay, this year’s recipient of the Women in Legal Education section’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award, sets out so well. As I discuss below the fold, Justice Ginsburg’s work sets the stage for the full program on the field of women’s legal history.
For the second portion of the program, we have three “new voices” in women’s legal history. The Section on Legal History has, as far as I could tell, never devoted a panel to women’s legal history. This is a field that has been growing over the past couple of decades with the work of Reva Siegel (who we are fortunate to have introduce the conversation between the Justice and Wendy and moderate the panel), Linda Kerber, Richard Chused, Wendy Williams, among many others. The field has exploded in the past decade with dynamic work by people such as Leti Volpp, Felice Batlan, Jill Hasday, Serena Mayeri, Cary Franklin, and many others (some of which is collected in the excellent book edited by Tracy Thomas and Tracey Boisseau, Feminist Legal History).
With the help of Rebecca Zietlow, we were able to assemble a great New Voices panel that includes Deborah Dinner, Lynda Dodd, and Mary Ziegler. Each of these scholars explores new research and interpretation of significant points of twentieth century women’s legal history, and their work merits a fuller discussion in a separate post. For now I will just preface their talks with a quick summary: Lynda takes fresh look at the organizing campaign for the Nineteenth Amendment, and in particular at the strategic choices and controversial leadership style of Alice Paul. Deborah’s study of the history of conservatism and feminism in the 1970s and 80s challenges received dichotomies in the field, such as the sameness-difference framework, to develop a more robust understanding of the history of feminism and law. Mary, like Deborah, reconceives the history from the 1970s-80s, but with a focus specifically on developments following Roe v. Wade. Like Deborah, Mary seeks to deepen our understanding of the forces and dynamics that shaped late-twentieth century women’s rights, showing that the way we currently see Roe and abortion rights was not inevitable and was not the view taken by people on either side of the political spectrum at the time. As is true for all good legal history, each of these scholars delves into the archival and other sources to teach us how the contexts for law, whether legislative and judicial, are so much more contingent and complex than we often allow in our contemporary frames, and can open our own ways of conceiving of future directions.
This panel is also part of a set of related programs on Saturday. In the morning at 8:30, the Con Law section is holding a program titled Liberty-Equality: Gender, Sexuality, and Reproduction: Griswold v. Connecticut Then and Now, with Cary Franklin, Melissa Murray, Doug NeJaime, and Neil Siegel speaking, and Isabel Medina and Reva B. Siegel moderating. Then at noon the Section on Women in Legal Education holds its luncheon (tickets required), where Justice Ginsburg will present the award named in her honor to this year’s recipient, Herma Hill Kay. Our program follows the luncheon. It should be an exhilarating day.
I look forward to exploring these and other ideas with you in the coming weeks.