You Think; Therefore I Am: Gender Schemas and Context in Oral Arguments at the Supreme Court, 1979–2016

AuthorShane A. Gleason,EmiLee Smart
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/10659129211069176
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Article
Political Research Quarterly
2023, Vol. 76(1) 143157
© The Author(s) 2022
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DOI: 10.1177/10659129211069176
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You Think; Therefore I Am: Gender
Schemas and Context in Oral Arguments
at the Supreme Court, 19792016
Shane A. Gleason
1
and EmiLee Smart
2
Abstract
Attorneysability to secure justice-votes is shaped by gender schemas, subconscious expectations which hold women
should use more emotion than men. This poses few problems for male attorne ys since men and attorneys are both
expected to avoid emotion. But, women are placed in a double-bind with comp eting professional and personal ex-
pectations. We argue gender schemas are not static rather they change with the context of the Court. Introducing a new
dataset inclusive of all oral arguments from 1979 to 2016, we utilize quantitative textual analysis and f‌ind gender schemas
predict securing justice-votes as the Bar becomes more diverse and justices become more conservative. Our results
raise normative concerns about female attorneysability to substantively contribute to the Courts case law.
Keywords
gender schemas, oral arguments, attorneys, U.S. Supreme Court, diversity
As a f‌irst-year law student in the 1950s, Ruth Bader
Ginsburg was asked by Harvard Law School Dean Erwin
Griswold why she was taking a seat that would otherwise
go to a man (Ginsburg 2016). Twenty-f‌ive years later
Chief Justice Burger openly voiced opposition to female
law clerks and justices, arguing they were unf‌it for the
rigors of the Court (Thomas 2019;Woodward and
Armstrong 1979). These blatantly sexist comments
were the product of prevailing gender schemas holding the
law was a male domain (e.g., Haire and Moyer 2015;
Norgren 2018;Schneider and Bos 2019). Over the past
several decades, the role of women, in society broadly and
the legal profession specif‌ically, has changed remarkably
(Faludi 1991;Fileborn and Loney-Howes 2019;Haire and
Moyer 2015;Rhode 2002); though, implicit sexism re-
mains (Noonan and Corcoran 2004). While women now
constitute approximately a quarter of all oral advocates at
the Court, they are often evaluated by how well they
conform with gender schemas (Gleason 2020;Szmer et al.
2010;Patton and Smith 2017), implicit expectations about
how women and men should act in a host of contexts
(Bem 1979;Hudak 1993;Patton and Smith 2020). This
often occurs through language (Gleason 2020).
Collectively, existing studies f‌ind female attorneys
more effectively secure justice-votes when conforming
with gender schemas. But, existing work is restricted to
brief time periods where the Courts context is relatively
static. Since gender schemas dynamically change with the
broader social and political context (e.g., Sanbonmatsu
2002,2008), the relative importance of gender schemas in
attorneys securing justice-votes should likewise change
over time. Thus, we must consider the Courts changing
context to fully understand how gender schemas shape
attorneys obtaining justice-votes.
Since the legal professions culture is overwhelmingly
male (Gorman 2005;Rhode 1994,2002), male gendered
expectations align with attorneysprofessional expecta-
tions (Gleason et al. 2019). This is due to an often overtly
sexist history (Norgren 2018) which has implications to
the present day (Kaheny et al. 2015;Sarver et al. 2008;
Epstein et al. 1995;Noonan and Corcoran 2004). Con-
sequently, despite an increasingly gender diverse Bar, the
1
Department of Social Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, Texas A&M
University - Corpus Christi, TX, USA
2
Department of Political Science, College of Arts & Sciences, University
of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Shane A. Gleason, Department of Social Sciences, College of Liberal
Arts, Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi, 6300 Ocean Drive, Unit
5826, Corpus Christi, TX 78412, USA.
Email: shane.gleason@tamucc.edu

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