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)

Find a Day

Abortion Rights ACLU african-americans Alice Paul anti-communism Anti-Communist Hysteria Birth Control Brown v. Board of Education Censorship CIA Civil Rights Civil Rights Act of 1964 Cold War Espionage Act FBI First Amendment Fourteenth Amendment freedom of speech Free Speech Gay Rights Hate Speech homosexuality Hoover, J. Edgar HUAC Japanese American Internment King, Dr. Martin Luther Ku Klux Klan Labor Unions Lesbian and Gay Rights Loyalty Oaths McCarthy, Sen. Joe New York Times Obscenity Police Misconduct Same-Sex Marriage Separation of Church and State Sex Discrimination Smith Act Spying Spying on Americans Vietnam War Voting Rights Voting Rights Act of 1965 War on Terror Watergate White House Women's Rights Women's Suffrage World War I World War II Relocation Camps


Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear your comments, criticisms and suggestions!