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Exposing the Harms of Being Shortlisted

Professor Hannah Brenner

“Very little in the academic world is new; few of us have truly original ideas—but this book is in fact telling a story that has gone untold until now; it really is new.”

So said a panelist at the 2019 Southeastern Association of Law Schools (SEALS) Conference summing up the forthcoming book, Shortlisted: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court authored by California Western’s Vice Dean for Academic and Student Affairs and Associate Professor of Law Hannah Brenner and University of Houston Law Center’s Professor Renee Knake.

The brainchild of Brenner and Knake, Shortlisted examines the consequences when women and minority candidates for positions of leadership and power are shortlisted—deemed qualified among an elite group but ultimately not selected.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon announced he was considering a California Judge, Mildred Lillie, as a possible nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Ultimately, the American Bar Association rated Lillie as unqualified, but it was the national media reports covering Lillie that caught the eye of Brenner and Knake.

The New York Times published an article about Mildred Lillie in the context of her consideration for the Court,” says Brenner. “In short, the article commented on her appearance in a swimsuit and her childless status, as if these things had anything to do with her qualification for the court!”

Brenner and Knake were so outraged by this article that it became the genesis of a project that has spanned almost a decade.

“We had never heard of Mildred Lillie,” says Brenner. “We never knew that a woman had been shortlisted for the Court before Sandra Day O'Connor and we wondered who else besides Mildred Lillie may have been considered—hence the birth of this project, which explores the lives of nine such women dating as far back as the 1930’s.”

Shortlisted: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court, is due to be published by New York University Press (NYU) in spring 2020.

The SEALS panel was somewhat unique, as the book was presented in its final manuscript stage ahead of publication.

The panel received the project in an overwhelmingly positive way and at a really key point in the production of the final book as Brenner explains.

“We are still able to provide one more round of substantive edits,” says Brenner. “So some of the feedback that we got was really useful, and the serendipitous timing of the panel means we can incorporate this into the final manuscript.”

Stay tuned for more on Shortlisted: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court as the publication date draws closer. In the meantime, Brenner reveals a little taste of what readers can expect.

“By focusing on the lives of nine women who were shortlisted but never nominated to the Supreme Court, we are truly telling a new story.”

For more information on The Shortlisted Project, please click here.