Academic journal article Advancing Women in Leadership

Who Framed the Women? Measuring the Public Relations Impact on the Media's Framing of the U.S Supreme Court Nominees

Academic journal article Advancing Women in Leadership

Who Framed the Women? Measuring the Public Relations Impact on the Media's Framing of the U.S Supreme Court Nominees

Article excerpt

This study seeks to determine if Presidents frame female nominees to the highest court differently than their male counterparts in ways consistent with other female leaders. Entmen (1993) defines framing as process whereby certain aspects of a perceived reality are selected and made more salient in communication. This work further examines how U.S. Presidents select and highlight certain aspects of their U.S. Supreme Court nominees' background, experience and personal attributes in public relations materials. By analyzing frames in public relations materials and comparing them to those found in testimony by third parties and in newspaper coverage, the study will determine the effectiveness of the Presidents to influence others to utilize his frames.

Keywords: Bush, frame, framing, gender, Obama, public relations, Supreme Court


Those who sit in the Supreme Court interpret the laws of our land and truly do leave their footprints on the sands of time. Long after the policies of Presidents and Senators and Congressmen of any given era may have passed from public memory, they'll be remembered. - Ronald Reagan (Reagan, 1981).

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Sandra Day O'Connor to become the first female Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. In his announcement, Reagan (1981) remarked:

...she is truly a person for all seasons, possessing those unique qualities of temperament, fairness, intellectual capacity, and devotion to the public good which have characterized the 101 brethren who have preceded her. I commend her to you, and I urge the Senate's swiftbipartisan confirmation so that as soon as possible she may take her seat on the Court and her place in history. (para. 9)

In 1987, President Reagan nominated Judge Robert Bork to become an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Conversely, for this nominee, Reagan (1987) said:

Judge Bork is recognized as a premier constitutional authority. His outstanding intellect and unrivaled scholarly credentials are reflected in his thoughtful examination of the broad, fundamental legal issues of our times. When confirmed by the Senate as an appellate judge in 1982, the American Bar Association gave him its highest rating: 'exceptionally well qualified.' On the bench, he has been well prepared, evenhanded, and openminded. (para. 2)

These two announcements are examples of how U.S. Presidents "frame" their nominees for the highest court in the land. According to Entmen (1993) "Framing essentially involves selection and salience. To frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described" (p. 52). Related to this study, Richard Davis explains in his book, Electing Justice: Fixing the Supreme Court Nomination Process, Presidents use framing as a way to "sell" their candidate to the many constituencies who must be convinced to support a particular nominee. Davis (2005) noted, "'Selling' requires creating an image of a nominee. Because an image inevitably will form, the nominee and the White House want to be the first to shape it" (p. 130).

As Davis explained, the President is merely the first player in the Supreme Court nomination process to define the imagery of a nominee. Congress, legal organizations, interest groups, and the media also take turns framing the nominee, which helps form the American public's perception of a candidate. Further, Davis (2005) pointed out:

Supreme Court appointments are well designed for image making because nominations

often begin with a blank slate in terms of public awareness of the nominee. Over more than 200 years, few Supreme Court nominees have been widely known to the public when they were nominated. (p. 135)

Indeed, as Graber (1980) explained,

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