By: Michelle Scanlon
On Friday, October 23, respected legal scholars from around the country gathered on WebEx to commemorate the 19th Amendment’s 100th anniversary by presenting on a variety of women’s rights issues. Attendees, who included Law Review members, St. John’s faculty, and other members of the legal community, had the pleasure of listening to two panels and a keynote speaker. The highlight of the symposium was the diversity of presentations, which offered an enlightening look at the state of gender equality and the fight for women’s rights throughout United States’ history. Professor Rosemary Salomone moderated the first panel, which consisted of Professors Alissa Gomez, Cassandra Jones Havard, and Kit Johnson. The second panel, which consisted of Professors Nora Demleitner, Mikah Thompson, and Nicole Ligon, was moderated by Professor Catherine Duryea. The symposium’s keynote speaker was Taunya Banks, the Jacob A. France Professor of Equality Jurisprudence at the University of Maryland School of Law.
One theme that ran through the event was intersectionality. Professor Havard specifically evoked the ideas of Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, emphasizing that issues of race and gender must be recognized and addressed together. Her presentation focused on the economic security of women of color by examining different statutes such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII, and the Equal Rights Act of 1972. In a similar vein, Professor Banks’ keynote address, “Commemorating the Forgotten Intersection of the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments,” offered an enlightening discussion on how White women’s and Black men’s suffrage excluded Black women entirely.
The remaining panelists’ presentations ran the gamut of gender quality issues, but all were equally compelling. Professor Gomez focused on the representation of women in “big law,” and argued that firms should no longer measure success by male standards as they do now. Professor Johnson discussed how the suffragettes’ use of nativist and anti-immigration rhetoric was a key component in getting the right to vote and, importantly, how we can learn from their mistakes. Professor Thompson spoke about the adultification of Black girls in the context of statutory rape and, more specifically, how the mistake-of-age defense is used against victims. Professor Ligon described how defamation lawsuits have been weaponized in sexual assault cases and enumerated various ways to help women tell their stories. The final presenter of the day, Professor Demleitner, explained how the decriminalization of sex work could provide necessary protections for women—legally, economically, and for the sake of their health.
This impressive group of speakers provided attendees an insightful discussion of gender equality issues from the past and the present and, thankfully, left us with tangible solutions for the future. Anyone who is interested in learning more about these topics can watch the full symposium at bit.ly/sjulrev2020 and read the panelists’ full papers in the spring 2021 issue of the St. John’s Law Review.