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Session Summary: Shortlisted – Lessons Learned

submitted by Corinna Lain:

Thursday’s panel on Hannah Brenner and Renee Knake Jefferson’s forthcoming book, Shortlisted, was one of the highlights of the SEALS programming this year.  As Howard Katz said during the Q&A, “I’m so glad I didn’t just go home after my last panel.  There’s always one panel at SEALS that makes the whole thing worthwhile and this is it.” (disclaimer, there are many worthwhile panels at SEALS, and no shade was intended in this statement…)

If you missed the session, you did miss something special, but more special than the panel is Brenner and Knake Jefferson’s Shortlisted, which I highly recommend reading when it comes out next spring.

Shortlisted tells the stories of the nine women shortlisted for Supreme Court vacancies—the ones that almost got a seat, but didn’t—and it’s a fascinating read.  Who knew that the first woman on the Supreme Court shortlist was Florence Allen, who FDR shortlisted in 1937?  And who knew that Presidents Truman and Eisenhower also shortlisted her, and that Truman was ready to actually nominate her but for the fact that Chief Justice Vinson said a woman on the Court just wouldn’t do?

If you’re wondering who the heck Florence Allen was and why haven’t we ever heard of her, you’re starting to get the point of the book.  Shortlisted is filled with wonderful stories of women most of us have never heard of—truly, the authors could be novelists, they tell the stories so well—and it shows again and again how the shortlisting of women for Supreme Court vacancies has worked to create the appearance of valuing diversity while preserving the status quo.

Brenner and Knake Jefferson tell the stories of these illustrious women, then step back to draw some conclusions about the stories they tell—what shortlisting says about tokenism and its various harms, what it says about the double-bind that women often find themselves in (damned if you do, damned if you don’t), and what we can draw from these women’s experiences.

Shortlisted is fresh, timely, and written in a way readers will love.  It’s a great book.

Commenters Teri Baxter (Tennessee), Josh Blackman (South Texas), and Corinna Lain (Richmond) lauded the project and then added a few impressions and suggestions.  Teri talked about the surprising tension between sex and race in the stories of many of these women, and thought about the assumptions underlying the sort of diversity that women bring.  Josh talked about strategies one might consider to move women from being on the shortlist to being on the Supreme Court bench and gave lots of great advice to give this project the platform it so richly deserves.  Corinna talked about ways to further synthesize the theme of the project with the stories of these women and the lessons learned from their stories.  Then someone suggested a new subtitle.  It started with Lessons Learned but this commentator might have been too engaged in the discussion to write down the rest.

Time flew as the audience discussed the book and publishing process.  Five minutes later, it seemed, the session was done.

If you missed this session, you really did miss a good one, but I have a feeling I know what Brenner and Knake Jefferson would say:

No worries, just buy the book.

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