Supreme Court: Will the media again adopt gender stereotypes?


During last year's confirmation process for Sonia Sotomayor, Media Matters documented that numerous media figures adopted language reflecting gender stereotypes in reporting about Sotomayor's temperament and intellect. Here's what we wrote at the time:

Since Sonia Sotomayor's name was raised as a possible choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter, numerous media figures have adopted language reflecting gender and racial stereotypes in reporting about her temperament and intellect. In many instances, reporters and pundits point to characterizations from a controversial New Republic piece by Jeffrey Rosen, which cited in part anonymous Democratic "former law clerks for other judges on" the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, on which Sotomayor sits. In a subsequent piece, Rosen defended his original article in part by noting similar comments about Sotomayor from anonymous attorneys in the 2008 edition of the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary. Scholars and others have noted that such descriptions reflect gender and racial biases, and similar characterizations have been cited by The Handbook of Social Psychology (Oxford University Press, 1998) as representing "Anglos' generic stereotypes of Latinos."

ABC's World News and NBC's Nightly News reported Lindsey Graham's citation of anonymous criticism of Sonia Sotomayor published in the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary without noting that Sotomayor's 2nd Circuit Court colleague reportedly called such criticism "sexist."

On the May 26, 2009, edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, Slate editor and judicial reporter Dahlia Lithwick said of criticism of Sotomayor: "[S]o much of this is anti-woman politics. I mean, so much of this is larded up with talk of her being a bully and aggressive -- the kinds of things that she does on the bench that Scalia can get away with, but she can't."

According to reports, at least two women are likely on the short list to replace retiring Justice John Stevens. Will the media again resort to adopting gender stereotypes as they did during the Sotomayor hearings? Let's hope not.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties
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