When Nixon Floated—Then Gaslit—the First Female Supreme Court Candidate

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tags: Supreme Court, Nixon



Gil Troy, a native New Yorker, is Professor of History at McGill University. His tenth book on American history, The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, was just published by Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin’s Press. Follow him on Twitter @GilTroy

If he survives this ugly nomination fight where partisanship trumps ideology and qualifications—yet again—Judge Neil Gorsuch won’t be joining his daddy’s and granddaddy’s Supreme Court. America’s most exclusive fraternity used to be such a boys’ club that even when a Republican president floated the name of an impressive woman jurist, his trial balloon popped. Tellingly, in 1971, the American Bar Association advisory committee deemed Mildred Lillie, the first serious female Supreme Court possibility, “unqualified.”

That Richard Nixon tried to be the pioneering president to first name a woman to the highest court in the land appears to be another Nixon anomaly. The Red-baiting, liberal-hating, enemies-list-making Nixon also signed off on the Environmental Protection Agency, Affirmative Action, and an ever-expanding federal budget—while visiting Soviet Russia and Communist China.

Was he a closet feminist too?

Actually, these liberal moves demonstrate how “Tricky Dick” coped with the Sixties—and a Democratic Congress. Having been elected in 1968, Richard Nixon understood that unless he faced the major cultural, political, and social upheavals he would face defeat in 1972. When campaigning, this perpetually-needy politician shouted to women: “I want you! We need you!”

Once elected, Nixon agreed with his advisor Daniel Patrick Moynihan that, thanks to women’s liberation, “female equality will be a major cultural/political force in 1970’s.” Hoping to “make political hay,” Nixon directed his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman to “grab [the] ball on [the] women’s thing.” ...




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