Gutgold, Nichola D. the Rhetoric of Supreme Court Women: From Obstacles to Options

By McGowan, Angela M. | Women's Studies in Communication, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview
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Gutgold, Nichola D. the Rhetoric of Supreme Court Women: From Obstacles to Options


McGowan, Angela M., Women's Studies in Communication


Gutgold, Nichola D. The Rhetoric of Supreme Court Women: From Obstacles to Options. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2012. 1+ 143 pp. $27.99 (paperback). ISBN- 13:978-0-7391-7252-0.

The Rhetoric of the Supreme Court characterizes the institution as having "received little attention in the press and scant academic consideration for their communication styles and rhetorical strategies" (p. 5). Nichola Gutgold critically analyzes the persuasive strategies employed by four U.S. Supreme Court women. Gutgold chronologically guides the reader through the lives of the first women justices, beginning with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Although themes of struggle and perseverance dominate, each woman's decisions reflect a unique rhetorical imprint.

Gutgold recounts the initial difficulty women experienced within the law profession, a contention supported by examples, testimony, and statistical analysis. Reading about female suppression solidifies the significance of Gutgold's analysis, particularly because "the Supreme Court remains one of the few institutions still shrouded in mystery" (p. 5). Nevertheless, Gutgold illuminates how the women's unique experiences and perspectives have influenced their rhetoric.

Gutgold's contribution to our understanding of women's political rhetoric is twofold. First, she builds on previous studies of women and rhetoric, such as Campbell's (1989) Man Cannot Speak for Her, noting historical exclusion from accounts of the public sphere. Gutgold's study is the first scholarly examination of the women Supreme Court justices' use of feminine style. Consequently, we learn that female justices often use narrative structure, personal tone, and audience participation when they address the public and the Court. Most notably, each justice discusses her lived experiences.

Drawing on Campbell's (1989) theory, Gutgold describes Justice O'Connor's feminine style as a public speaker. In each of her speeches, Justice O'Connor educates audiences about women and the law by self-disclosing her personal struggles for acceptance in male-dominated spheres of influence. In her narrative, Justice O'Connor applies historical figures' testimonies. Justice Ginsburg's speeches likewise reflect a feminine style that interprets women's issues as lived experiences (Blakenship & Robson, 1995). In her first national speech, for example, Justice Ginsburg disclosed "feelings for her family, her devotion to women's rights, and the significant obstacles she faced as a young, Jewish female lawyer" (p. 46). As such, Justice Ginsburg retells the past, quoting women such as Sarah Grimke. Akin to Justice O'Connor, Justice Ginsburg's speeches teach audiences about the law and the workings of the Supreme Court.

Second, Gutgold's analysis of each woman's confirmation hearing, written opinions, public lectures, and personal interviews creates rhetorical biographies of the first four female Supreme Court justices. This is noteworthy because, as the author argues, "by examining the words of the first four women on the Supreme Court, we can begin to appreciate the rhetorical sensitivity each one employs to become and remain a vital voice on the bench and in society" (p. 12). By calling attention to particular moments in the justices' histories, Gutgold reminds us that the women justices have significantly advanced the "mission of gender equality and changed the lives of American people and American society" (p. 66). Gutgold's critical analysis elucidates how female justices challenged hegemonic norms.

Although she does not draw upon Cloud's (1996) work, Cloud's discussion of the biography as a rhetorical genre can be used to discuss Gutgold's analysis. Cloud deems rags-to-riches biographies as problematic, because authors gloss over structural inequalities that function as obstacles to success. Gutgold's narration of the justices' biographies come from the justices' own recollections, and in turn, the justices reproduce their own success stories.

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