A Chronicle of the Women and the Law Conferences



The Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s inaugural Women and the Law Conference in 2001, Women as Workers, featured as keynote speaker Professor Deborah Rhode, the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, former president of the Association of American Law Schools and former chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Legal Profession. Her keynote address focused on the status of women in the legal profession and the challenge for lawyers of leading balanced lives. She was followed by Thomas Jefferson Law School Professors Susan Bisom-Rapp,Julie Greenberg and Susan Tiefenbrun, who respectively touched on their research related to sexual harassment training, Title VII and gender non-conformity discrimination, and global trafficking of women sex workers.
The Second Annual Women and the Law Conference theme was Women and Family Law. The Honorable Judith McConnell, presiding Justice of the California Fourth District California Court of Appeal, delivered the keynote address, titled “Women in the Law: Changing the Way Courts Do Business,” which reviewed law reform movements aimed at eliminating gender bias in the courts and in substantive law. Her lecture was followed by presentations from Thomas Jefferson Professors Marybeth Herald, Ellen Waldman, Laura Adams and Ruth Philips, who discussed the rights of spouses to terminate life support, assisted reproductive technology, war crimes and family violence, and refugee laws and domestic violence.

In 2003, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg visited Thomas Jefferson School of Law and delivered an address titled, “Workways of the Supreme Court.” After this visit, Justice Ginsburg generously created the Thomas Jefferson School of Law Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecture Series, which at the time was one of only two lecture series in the world that bearing her name.


At the Third Annual Conference, Women and the Maternal Wall, Joan C. Williams, then Professor of Law at American University and presently Distinguished Professor of Law at University of California Hastings College of the Law, delivered the first Ruth Bader Ginsburg lecture in 2003. Her talk, “Beyond the Glass Ceiling: The Maternal Wall as a Barrier to Gender Equality,” discussed the cutting-edge legal theories developing in the fight against family care responsibility discrimination and charted a course toward a new reconstructive feminism supporting women both in their traditional caregiving roles and in their desire for access to the traditionally masculine preserves of high status wage labor. Professor Williams’ keynote was followed by commentary from Professor William Bielby, discussing social science research on the maternal wall and its effect on litigation; Professor Susan Bisom-Rapp, analyzing employer reactions to maternal wall lawsuits; Jennifer Roback Morris, critiquing equality jurisprudence; and Professor Julie Greenberg, presenting a unifying theory of gender nonconformity that could be used to assist working mothers and other gender nonconformists.

The Fourth Annual Women and the Law Conference in 2004 focused on What U.S. Lawyers Can Learn from International Law: Concepts of Gender Equality across Legal Cultures. It brought together distinguished professors from law, the social sciences and humanities. Martha Albertson Fineman, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law at Emory School of Law and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecturer, discussed how a more expansive, substantive notion of equality grounded in international human rights law can be used by progressive lawyers and policy makers to address systemic inequality in the United States and develop a robust vision of the role and responsibility of the state vis-à-vis its most vulnerable citizens. Her talk was followed by Thomas Jefferson School of Law Professors Linda Keller and Marjorie Cohn, who addressed worldwide noncompliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the failure of the United States to ratify the treaty; Professor Huma Ahmed-Ghosh, who focused on gender discrimination in Afghanistan; and Professor Abigail Saguy, who compared the sexual harassment laws in the United States to France.
In 2005, Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s Women and the Law Project joined with Emory University’s Feminism and Legal Theory Project to co-host a two-day conference, The Global Impact of Feminist Legal Theory, which focused on the effect of feminist legal theory beyond U.S. borders. Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecturer Kathryn Abrams, Herma Hill Kay Distinguished Professor of Law at University of California Berkeley School of Law, delivered a lecture titled “Work in the Global Context,” in which she exhorted feminist law professors to consider issues related to work as a way of understanding the effects of globalization on women around the world. The conference brought together legal and interdisciplinary scholars from around the globe, including Professors Mary Condon and Lisa Phillips from Canada, who spoke about experiments in gender responsive government budgeting in the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa; Professor Karen Morrow, from the United Kingdom, who evaluated the role of eco-feminists in United Nations sustainable development programming; Siobhan Mullally, who discussed citizenship and family life in Ireland; and Professor Reg Graycar from Australia, who pondered about the trajectory of feminist legal theory and understandings of equality. Additional participants included: Michele Alexandre, Penelope Andrews, Judith Baer, Pamela Bridgewater, Kristin Bumiller, Caroline Forell, Julie Goldscheid, Thomas Jefferson School of Law Professor Marybeth Herald, Berta Hernandez-Truyol, Tracy Higgins, Jane Larson, Teemu Ruskola, Ruthann Robson and Richard Storrow.
In 2006, the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecturer at the Women and the Law Conference on Sexuality at Work was Professor Vicki Schultz of Yale Law School. Her keynote talk on “The Sanitized Workplace,” argued that managers use and transform sexual harassment law from a doctrine meant to advance women’s equality into one designed to banish all workplace sexuality, including harmless banter and dating, even when such behavior has no effect on gender equality. Finding value in certain kinds of sexual expression in gender-desegregated work environments, Professor Schultz supports legal reform that updates conceptions of gender equality and organizational rationality and incorporates, under appropriate circumstances, sexuality and intimacy. Commentators on the implications of Professor Schultz’s work for women, people of color, gays and lesbians, immigrant workers and organized labor included Ruben Garcia, Zachary Kramer, Barbara Lawless, M. Isabel Medina, Rich Paul and Christine Williams.
At the Seventh Annual Conference in 2007, Virtual Women: Emerging Issues in Gender and Intellectual Property Law, Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecturer Rochelle Dreyfuss of the New York University School of Law School spoke about gender effects of incentive structures of the creative fields in her talk “Girls Just Want to Have Fun: What Can Feminist Theory Tell Us About Incentives?” Four panels of speakers, including Ann Bartow, Dr. Boatema Boateng, Dan L. Burk, Dr. Carys J. Craig, Mallary DeMerlier, Michele Goodwin, Thomas Jefferson School of Law Professor K.J. Greene, Christine Haight Farley, Eileen Kane, Mary LaFrance, Doris Estelle Long, Malla Pollack, Adrien Pruetz and Rebecca Tushnet, discussed the theoretical underpinnings of gender and intellectual property, the culture of gender and intellectual property, and gender issues in patent law.
The 2008 conference centered on Women in Politics: The Role of Gender in Political Decision-Making. The Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecture, “Breaking the Political Glass Ceiling: Incumbency, Redistricting and the Success of Women Candidates,” was delivered by Barbara Palmer of American University. She was joined by an array of women from the political arena, including California State Senator Christine Kehoe, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, former advisor to President Carter Midge Costanza, San Diego City Councilwoman Donna Frye and U.S. Attorney Karen Hewitt, as well as several academic speakers from a variety of disciplines. Topics included special challenges facing women politicians; the intersectional effects of race, class and gender in elections; the role of gender in campaign messages; gender voting patterns; partisan differences in the nomination of women to office; female congressional candidates; and the role of gender in voting patterns.
The Ninth Annual Conference in 2009, co-sponsored by the Relationship Training Institute, addressed one of the toughest issues facing the legal system and society in general - the epidemic of domestic violence in the United States. The conference, Confronting Domestic Violence Head On: The Role of Power in Domestic Relationships, began with domestic violence survivors from a variety of backgrounds sharing their stories. Police officers, prosecutors, defense counsel, domestic violence shelter operators and custody mediators discussed their frustrations with the legal theories and remedies currently available in domestic violence cases. Psychiatrists, relationship counselors and batterers’ intervention experts revealed the most recent evidence regarding the causes and effects of domestic violence. In addition, best-selling authors Susan Weitzman, Sandra Brown, Patricia Evans and David Wexler shared their insights regarding domestic violence. Vermont Law School Professor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecturer, Cheryl Hanna, addressed the central dilemma in the legal system’s treatment of domestic violence in her talk, “Behind the Castle Walls: Balancing Privacy and Security in Domestic Abuse Cases.“ Finally, legal scholars including Douglas Beloof, Emily Sack and Thomas Jefferson School of Law Professors Claire Wright, Steve Berenson and Ilene Durst discussed their specific proposals for improving the legal remedies available in civil and criminal cases involving domestic violence. This conference has led to a number of on-going efforts at Thomas Jefferson Law School to combat domestic violence, including the establishment of a clinic through which students and professors provide pro bono legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, in collaboration with the San Diego Family Justice Center.
In 2010, Thomas Jefferson broadened the scope of the Women and the Law Project by teaming with the UCLA School of Law’s Critical Race Studies Program, led by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw. The Women and the Law Project became a Principal Co-Sponsor of the Fourth Annual Critical Race Studies Symposium at UCLA in March 2010, a conference featuring leading feminist scholars including Catharine MacKinnon, Mari Matsuda and Patricia Williams. Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw then delivered the Ginsburg Lecture, “Intersectionality and Women of Color,” at Thomas Jefferson in April 2010. She was joined by a distinguished panel of Critical Race scholars, including Professors Cheryl Harris, Russell Robinson and Saul Sarabia.
In 2011, the Tenth Anniversary Women and the Law Conference, which was co-sponsored by the California Indian Law Association, focused on Gender Justice and Indian Sovereignty: Native American Women and the Law. Stacy L. Leeds, Interim Associate Dean and Professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, delivered the Ginsburg Lecture, “Resistance, Resilience, and Reconciliation: Reflections on Native American Women and the Law.” Professor Leeds, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, drew upon her experience as a judge on several tribal courts, including her service as Chief Justice of the Supreme Courts for the Kickapoo Tribe and the Kaw Nation, and her former service as a Justice of the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court. She was joined by a remarkable national assemblage of additional speakers, including American Indian women judges, practitioners and academics from across the country.
The 2012 conference, Reproductive Justice: Examining Choice and Autonomy in the New Millennium, was co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest. The conference focused on a broad spectrum of legal, social, scientific and policy issues. Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecturer Dr. Sarah Weddington, lead counsel for the plaintiff in Roe v Wade, fascinated the audience during her talk ”Women Lawyers: The Importance of Leadership” when she described her personal experience as a very young attorney preparing and arguing the landmark Supreme Court case, as well as her subsequent contributions in politics and education. Three panels of speakers, including Professors Brenda Simon, Hank Greely, Martha M. Ertman, Rene Almeling, Priscilla Smith, Nancy Ehrenreich, Khiara M. Bridges, Courtney G. Joslin and Lisa Ikemoto and policy expert Vince Hall, provided insight on a broad range of reproductive rights topics, including post Roe v. Wade developments in the laws regulating access to abortion, commodification, autonomy, intersectionality and marginalized populations.
For the 2013 Women and the Law Conference, Thomas Jefferson School of Law was delighted and honored to present prestigious jurists and distinguished academics discussing HER HONOR: Women in the Judiciary. This conference celebrated female judges and examined the importance of women in the judiciary. Speakers discussed the important effect women judges have had on the judicial system and legal regimes. They also examined the special accomplishments of and the challenges facing women in the judiciary. In a special Q & A session, honored guest U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shared her perspectives as the second appointed female member of the nation’s highest court. The 2013 Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecturer was Susan Williams, the Walter W. Foskett Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Constitutional Democracy at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. Professor Williams has authored numerous books and articles on feminist theory and constitutional law. Other jurists and academics who shared their global and domestic insights included Former French Supreme Court Justice Noëlle Lenoir; Justice Laurie Zelon of the California Court of Appeal; Carla Pratt of Pennsylvania State Dickinson School of Law and Associate Justice of the Standing Rock Sioux Supreme Court; Leslie Kuan-Hsi Wang of Zhejiang University Guanghua Law School; Nienke Grossman of University of Baltimore School of Law; and Lillian Lim, San Diego Superior Court Judge (retired) and Thomas Jefferson alumna.