Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New Book: Nichola Gutgold, "The Rhetoric of Supreme Court Women: From Obstacles to Options"

My colleague, Nichola Gutgold has just published her excellent book: The Rhetoric of Supreme Court Women: From Obstacles to Options, by Lexington Books – a division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc. (2012) ISBN-10: 0739172506; ISBN-13: 978-0739172506

(Pix of Professor Gutgold, from PSU Press Release, Professor publishes book focused on women in the U.S. Supreme Court, Penn State Live, June 20, 2012)

What follows are the Penn State Press Release announcing publication, the publisher's summary and my forward to the book.  The book is well worth the read! 

This from the Penn State Press Release (Professor publishes book focused on women in the U.S. Supreme Court, Penn State Live, June 20, 2012):
Nichola D. Gutgold, associate professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State Lehigh Valley, recently published "The Rhetoric of Supreme Court Women: From Obstacles to Options," by Lexington Books – a division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc.

For almost 200 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has been an exclusively male-dominated institution. From 1981 to 2010, however, four women were appointed to the Supreme Court for the first time in U.S. history: Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. In her book, Gutgold analyzes the rhetoric of these four women, while shedding light on the rise of political women in American judiciary. The power of their rhetoric in a historically male-dominated political system is carefully shown through Gutgold’s analysis of confirmation hearings, primary scripts of their written opinions, invited public lectures, speechesand personal interviews with Justices O’Connor, Ginsburg and Sotomayor.

“Professor Gutgold provides more than the usual approach, grounded in persuasive style and symbol in public and political setting. She understands the deeply embedded character of discourse as both a longitudinal marker of change and as a set of ‘scars’ that affect the nature and effect of discourse propelled from past through present to future,” said Larry Catá Backer, a W. Richard and Mary Eshelman faculty scholar and professor of law and international affairs at Penn State.

Gutgold’s other books include "Almost Madam President: Why Hillary Clinton ‘Won’ in 2008" (Lexington Books, 2009), "Seen and Heard: The Women of Television News," (Lexington Books, 2008), and "Paving the Way for Madam President" (Lexington Books, 2006). She co-authored "Elizabeth Hanford Dole: Speaking from the Heart" with Molly Wertheimer (Praeger Press, 2004) and "Gender and the American Presidency: Nine Presidential Women and the Barriers They Faced" with Theodore Sheckels and Diana Carlin (Lexington Books, 2012).

She has received several campus awards, including the Teaching Excellence Award, Research Achievement Award, Advising Excellence Award and Student Appreciation Award. In 2009 she was awarded the Pennsylvania Communication Association Donald Ecroyd Research and Scholarship Award. Gutgold has led Penn State students through China, Paris and Barcelona field studies. She advises the student newspaper, State of the Valley, and serves as University Senator. Gutgold also is a member of the National Communication Association and former president of the Pennsylvania Communication Association.

Here is the short description from the Publisher--Lexington Books:
The Supreme Court is one of the most traditional institutions in America that has been an exclusively male domain for almost two hundred years. From 1981 to 2010, four women were appointed to the Supreme Court for the first time in U.S. history. The Rhetoric of Supreme Court Women: From Obstacles to Options, by Nichola D. Gutgold, analyzes the rhetoric of the first four women elected to the Supreme Court: Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Gutgold’s thorough exploration of these pioneering women’s rhetorical strategies includes confirmation hearings, primary scripts of their written opinions, invited public lectures, speeches, and personal interviews with Justices O’Connor, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor. These illuminating documents and interviews form rhetorical biographies of the first four women of the Supreme Court, shedding new light on the rise of political women in the American judiciary and the efficacy of their rhetoric in a historically male-dominated political system. Gutgold’s The Rhetoric of Supreme Court Women provides valuable insight into political communication and the changing gender zeitgeist in American politics.

Here is my forward to the book:

The rhetoric of reflection is the great cultural specter of the last century. The specter of reflection as a cultural artifact has shaped the social realities by which people in the United States have come to understand themselves, and more decisively, their relation to each other. But more importantly, it has shaped the way in which we organize our thoughts and express ourselves.  Institutionalized into patterns of discourse, it has shaped the forms through which we can understand ourselves, our positions and the foundations of our perspectives.

The metrics of that rhetoric are founded on calculating distances—between what was before, what is now and what may lie in the future.  This reflection of measurement also reflects the speaker.  We measure out of ourselves outward from a history in which we are embedded (and embed ourselves) and into a future in which we are absent but for which we serve as bridge, architect, memory, and instrument.  That gauging reflection becomes central to those whose reflection is measured as a progress from the margins to the center of privileged communal life, and thus as a moving picture of mores, power, and place within social, political, economic and legal society.  The rhetoric of reflection marks not just the external space within which communication between individuals is possible.  It also marks the way in which individuals constitute themselves internally.

Reflection gives shape to a rhetoric that is used as an instrument and that is the framework for self constitution. Thus, reflection and rhetoric acquires the form of specter, both constituted from and constituting a self-reflective community.  This specter is particularly potent for individuals who are members of groups, once invisible, now moving toward greater prominence in a society marked by change.  Women are among the community of individuals whose status, social and self-conception, has undergone dramatic transformation in the last century.   Among the most visible are subgroups among the formerly invisible who are particularly embedded in a community built around the construction and performance of words and who in those exercises also control their own construction. The women who entered the legal profession play a critically prominent role as a voice for that community, and from within that community to serve as its the interpretive markers.

Nichola Gutgold has masterfully captured the form of this specter in her exploration of the rhetoric of four of the most influential and prominent women in the American legal establishment—the first four women to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court.    Professor Gutgold considers the arc of the communication styles of the Justices over time.  Justice O’Connor and Justice Ginsburg are the trailblazers; Justices Sotomayor and Kagan produce a rhetoric less shaped by obstacles to their invocation of discourse and more shaped by the memory of those obstacles, now reconstructed in the face of distance between them; a distancing rhetoric meant to re-construct them outside the constrains of the confines of created by the obstacles that faced their predecessors.  

Professor Gutgold provides more than the usual approach, grounded in persuasive style and symbol in public and political setting.  She understands the deeply embedded character of discourse as both a longitudinal marker of change and as a set of “scars” that affect the nature and effect of discourse propelled from past through present to future. In the Archeology of Knowledge, Michel Foucault reminds us of the power of discourse to convey substantially more than the simple meaning derived from the combination of the meaning of the aggregate of words and signs used.  Communication serves to pronounce (enouncement) as well assign relationships to the objects and subjects of pronouncement.  These pronouncements are not merely objective, in the sense of providing direction and information, but also serve to construct meaning, deeply embedded in culture, that in turn shapes the body of knowledge from which it arises.  Professor Gutgold draws this out expertly in the context of the Justices’ engagement with their words and particularly in the symbol and gesture-laden context in which these words are delivered.  The form of that elaboration is well-embedded in the structures of classical rhetoric, and that form serves the subject well. These rhetorics are especially well developed in the memoria section of each chapter.  Justice O’Connor reads scripted text and improvises through eye contact—controlled and careful—the markers of the pioneer.  Justice Ginsburg builds on the work of her assistants—and rewrites; well researched, purposeful, succinct, directed and to the point, the markers of a communicator staking territory.  Justice Sotomayor builds text on text to draw a picture of herself in the context in which she finds herself, a self affirmation that affirms a communal space, a space beyond sex to ethnicity and immigrant status.  Lastly, Justice Kagan is a study of text on text communication, she seeks to liberate herself from carefully prepared text through the development of systems of word prompts that provide a space for the impromptu but preserves the safety of the prepared, the domain of someone comfortable with the present.

Professor Gutgold provides the platform for better experiencing the communication of these four very different women as a semiotic performance.  They are each the incarnation of semiotic notions of self-construction in the production of the triangular relations—object, sign and interpretation—essential to meaning that the American semiotician Charles Peirce made well known. They are each individuals and also signs, gendered female, producing interpretation in the context in which they find themselves—law, courts and social status. The meaning comes from performance—communication as uni-dimensional production of words, or even as a two-dimensional experience between word producer and listener. Meaning becomes more complicated still in the face of the reality of words performed from out of an experiential context that both defines the producer and listener but also is shaped by and shapes the arena in which the performance is produced. This triadic relationship is augmented by that inherent in their speech.  Their figures of speech, the forms and venues within which this speech and its figures are incarnated, absorbed and performed suggest both their construction of an internal narrative and the instrumental use of that internal narrative in their participation in communal discourse.

Professor Gutgold is sensitive, as well, to feminist theorists who speak to communication as performance—that is, of the performance of gender in discourse in the naturalness of form. (Strega 2005).  Justice O’Connor as the construct of her race, place of birth and religion; Justice Ginsburg as the aggregation of her legal work on behalf of women, work that shaped both her and her milieu; Justice Sotomayor as the intersection of gender and ethnic identity, the personification of a contemporary sensibility about assimilation; and Justice Kagan as the post-feminist sensibility, gender at the other end of a road first traveled by Justice O’Connor. Professor Gutgold effectively melds this performativity with the discussion about the theater of judging at oral argument and the communicative performance of the opinion. 

That also suggests the subjectivity of gendered discourse, and its transformation over the course of half a century. Professor Gutgold draws out the conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions of each of these women, lawyers and judges; extracting meaning that is at once internal and subjective and external and consequential.  Each of these Justices projected the internal into their work and in so doing projected outward a construction of both gender and legal space that reflected and changed the communicative environment. In the process, Professor Gutgold provides a clearer picture of the way in which they construct themselves and their dynamic relation to the world.

The performativity of communication applies to an author as well as to her subject. Professor Gutgold masterfully practices what her subjects preach—she focuses within rather than around her subjects. Professor Gutgold is able to accomplish this by moving directly to the subject of this work—four extraordinary women and the way in which they have constructed themselves and the society around them in in quite substantial ways. Taken together, these Justices provide a picture of the relationship between individual, their subjective symbolic representation and the interpretation read into object and symbol by others. Yet each also represents a construction of gender that, in relating to its social and legal environment, produced a substantial effect mediated through unique communication styles. Mary Hawkesworth once noted that “[a]s discursive constructions, feminist rhetorics call worlds into being, inscribe new orders of possibility, validate frames of reference and forms of explanation, and reconstitute histories” (Hawkesworth 1988, 444). Professor Gutgold perfectively captures this essence of feminist discourse in the communications of the first four female justices of the U.S: Supreme Court. These rhetorics outline the specters of each of these remarkable women—not merely the women as individuals, but as the construct of a rhetoric of reflection that is grounded in the past but, in speaking to the present, constructs the future—that Professor Gutgold here so well captures.   

Larry Catá Backer
W. Richard and Mary Eshelman Faculty Scholar & Professor of Law,
Professor of International Affairs
Pennsylvania State University


Backer, Larry Catá. 2005. “Emasculated Men, Effeminate Law in the United States, Zimbabwe and Malaysia.” Yale Journal Of Law & Feminism 17:1-63.

Broekman, Jan.  “Firstness and Phenomenology—Peirce and Husserl on Attitude Change.”  In Anne Wagner and Jan Broekman, eds., Prospects of Legal Semiotics.  Springer, 37-78

Butler, Judith. 1999. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.  New York, Routledge.

Jacques Derrida. 1973. Speech and Phenomena:  And Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs.  Chicago:  Northwestern University Press.

Foucault.  Michel. 1972. Archaeology of Knowledge. New York: Pantheon.

Hawkesworth, Mary E. (1988). “Feminist Rhetoric: Discourses on the Male Monopoly of Thought.” Political Theory 16(3):444-467.

Minow, Martha. 1991.  Making All the Difference: Inclusion, Exclusion and American Law.  Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Strega, Susan. 2005. “The View From the Poststructural Margins: Epistemology and Methodology Reconsidered.” In L. Brown, & S. Strega (Eds.), Research as resistance: Critical, Indigenous, and Anti-oppressive Approaches (pp. 199–235). Toronto: Canadian Scholars' Press.

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