1961 May 19

President Kennedy to Seek “Men and Women of Unquestioned Ability” as Judges

 

President John F. Kennedy stated on this day that he would seek “men and women of unquestioned ability” to nominate for judicial appointments. It was the first statement by any president indicating an active interest in appointing women as judges. Kennedy’s performance did not match his rhetoric, however, and his judicial appointments were disappointing with respect to gender equity.

On women’s rights, however, Kennedy did create the President’s Commission on the Status of Women on December 14, 1961. The Commission’s report, delivered on October 11, 1963, had an important long-term impact on public policy. The report is notable for its suggestion that people bring test cases on the question of whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to women. That issue was eventually pursued by the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, led by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which won the landmark case of Reed v. Reed on November 22, 1971 establishing that women were covered by the Equal Protection Clause.

Kennedy: “I want to take this opportunity to say that for our Federal courts I shall choose men and women of unquestioned ability. I want for our courts individuals with respected professional skill, incorruptible character, firm judicial temperament, the rare inner quality to know when to temper justice with mercy, and the intellectual capacity to protect and illuminate the Constitution and our historic values in the context of a society experiencing profound and rapid change.”

Read JFK’s full statement: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=8139&st=&st1=#axzz2iE86FwU0

Read: Gail Collins, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present (2009)

Learn more about the changing status of women in the 1950s and early 1960s: Stephanie Coontz, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (2011)

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