Saturday, May 9, 2015
Pleased to announce that my article, Back to the Future of Regulating Abortion in the First Term, 29 Wisconsin J. Law, Gender & Soc'y 47 (2014), received the annual award for best faculty scholarship granted by the Alumni Association.
The article tracks the backstory of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health and Ohio v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health. It draws on original research of oral histories and recovered documents to explore the historical and legal context that spawned informed consent laws so early after Roe v. Wade seemingly resolved the legal question over abortion.
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Naomi Cahn, Author Diversity in Legal Scholarship
One impetus for the conference was Minna Kotkin’s article, Of Authorship and Audacity: An Empirical Study of Gender Disparity and Privilege in the “Top Ten” Law Reviews, 31 Women’s Rts. L. Rep. 385 (2010). Kotkin published the results of a study examining the percentage of female authors in elite journals, finding that just over 20% of articles in those law reviews were written by women even though women make up 31% of the tenured/tenure-track faculty nationally. When she first began discussing the results of the study, she faced lots of criticism and support in the blogosphere. Nancy Leong has usefully pointed out that these disparities certainly exist outside of the law review context as well. On the other hand, a later study mentioned at the conference concerning gender disparity in citation rates found that “women publishing in the field of legal studies do not experience significant gender bias in citation rates to their articles. If anything, the opposite appears to be true.” (p. 20). While the authors are not certain as to why this is, they offer numerous speculations as to why this is so, such as “legal scholars [may be] less likely than other scholars to bias citation by gender of author”. One possibility they don’t mention is that women’s articles are simply better than men’s; as the famed quote (from Charlotte Whitton) goes: “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” If this is true, then the gender disparity in law review authors is even more shocking.
Moving forward, we discussed a variety of potential changes. For example, when it comes to law review selection, we discussed the pipeline process: who is mentored to write on and join the law review, the topic selection for the write on process; the guidance given to law review staff on how to become senior editorial board members. While some participants advocated author-blind review of submissions by law reviews, others suggested affirmative action might be more appropriate (an issue discussed in this prior thread.
On the faculty side, we discussed the importance of both formal and informal mentoring, of finding colleagues from both within and outside of one’s own faculty who can engage in an informal peer review process. We discussed how schools can support diversity in faculty scholarship, including a shout-out to Martha Minow’s field guide to legal scholarship. One school actually has developed postings of sample (and successful) cover letters for articles.
Monday, March 16, 2015
A trio of economists have uploaded on SSRN a study about executive compensation and gender. The abstract:
We document three new facts about gender differences in executive compensation. First, female executives receive lower share of incentive pay in total compensation relative to males. This difference accounts for 93% of the gender gap in total pay. Second, the compensation of female executives displays lower pay-performance sensitivity. A $1 million dollar increase in firm value generates a $17,150 increase in firm specific wealth for male executives and a $1,670 increase for females. Third, female executives are more exposed to bad firm performance and less exposed to good firm performance relative to male executives. We find no link between firm performance and the gender of top executives. We discuss evidence on differences in preferences and the cost of managerial effort by gender and examine the resulting predictions for the structure of compensation. We consider two paradigms for the pay-setting process, the efficient contracting model and the “managerial power” or skimming view. The efficient contracting model can explain the first two facts. Only the skimming view is consistent with the third fact. This suggests that the gender differentials in executive compensation may be inefficient.
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Irene Velkova, University College London, has uploaded "Quotas for Women on Corporate Boards: The Challenge for Europe." The abstract reads:
“Bringing more women on boards is not just the right thing to do. More women on boards is the bright thing to do!”, argues Viviane Reding, the Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship in 2009-2014 when promoting European Union quota law. And then she adds: “…I do not like them (quotas) either. But I like the results they bring.”
The debate for higher female representation on corporate boards has become particularly intensive during the recent financial crisis. Scholars advocate that women are more risk-averse, more engaged with longer-term issues and tend to draw more attention to governance and ethics. Thus, it is suggested that due to the behavioural differences between men and women, more gender – balanced boards would have prevented a number of financial collapses. This assertion has triggered more detailed analyses of current statistics for women on boards in the European Union. The numbers that are found follow the global pattern. Women are well underrepresented on boards and even less visible as CEOs or chairpersons of companies. In particular, at the end of 2013 women held 17.8% of the seats on boards in Europe, 16.6% in the US, 12.3% in Canada, 12.3% in Australia and 17.1% in South Africa. Women serve as chairpersons on 3.2% of the biggest companies in Europe , 3.1% in the US, 4.2% in Canada, 3% in Australia and 5.5% in South Africa. The country in the world that excels with the highest number of female directors on boards is Norway, which has achieved 42% women on boards by 2013. These strikingly low ratios and the general finding in the empirical literature that women bring positive change to firms’ performance have generated a phenomenal drive for promoting initiatives that strive to increase the number of women on boards.
Saturday, February 14, 2015
What would United States Supreme Court opinions look like–and what would their influence be–if key decisions on gender issues were written with a feminist perspective? The US Feminist Judgments Project seeks to answer these questions by pulling together a group of leading feminist legal scholars in the United States to rewrite, using feminist reasoning, the most significant Supreme Court cases on gender from the 1800s all the way to the present day.
Editors Linda Berger (UNLV), Bridget Crawford (Pace) and Kathy Stanchi (Temple), along with an Advisory Panel of diverse and distinguished scholars, targeted 24 influential Supreme Court cases related to gender for feminist revision. Those 24 rewritten opinions, along with introductory commentary explaining the issues and context of the decision, will be published by Cambridge University Press in a volume entitled Feminist Judgments: Rewritten Opinions of the United States Supreme Court. You can see the final list of cases, as well as the authors of the rewritten opinions and commentaries, here.
The US Feminist Judgments Project was inspired by the successful collection and publication in Britain of Feminist Judgments: From Theory to Practice, by Rosemary Hunter, Clare McGlynn, and Erika Rackley. This volume, which included feminist versions of twenty-three key British decisions from the Court of Appeal and House of Lords, was published in 2010 to wide acclaim.
Like its British counterpart, the US Feminist Judgments Project seeks to illustrate how decision-makers with feminist viewpoints could have arrived at different decisions using different reasoning in critical Supreme Court cases despite the restrictions of stare decisis. The rewritten decisions are framed within the same precedent that bound the Supreme Court at the time of the opinion, but bring to the decision making and the opinion writing a feminist perspective on the facts and the law. The rewritten decisions show not only how feminist theory can apply to real-world judgments, but also the ways that stare decisions can mask the law’s masculine perspective and bias. In this way, the volume will help uncover the manner in which hidden and often-unrecognized gender bias drives the results and the reasoning in much of our jurisprudence.
Friday, February 13, 2015
This study suggests so. The abstract available on SSRN:
We formulate theory on the effect of board of director gender diversity on the broad spectrum of securities fraud and generate three main insights. First, based on ethicality, risk aversion, and diversity, we hypothesize that gender diversity on boards can operate as a significant moderator for the frequency of fraud. Second, we hypothesize that the stock market response to fraud from a more gender-diverse board is significantly less pronounced. Third, we hypothesize that women are more effective in male-dominated industries in reducing both the frequency and severity of fraud. Our first-ever empirical tests, based on data from a large sample of Chinese firms that committed securities fraud, are largely consistent with each of these hypotheses.
Monday, January 19, 2015
A recent student Note in the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly examines the status of intersex prisoners. It's available here and the abstract reads:
Miki Ann DiMarco spent 438 days in the most restrictive and isolated housing pod at Wyoming Department of Corrections due to the fact that she was “classified as an individual of ambiguous
Even though DiMarco identified herself as female since puberty, she was segregated from the general prison population because of her gender ambiguity. Biologically speaking, she “has a
nearly complete set of male reproductive organs however [sic] does not have testicles . . . [or] female reproductive organs.”
People who are intersex, such as DiMarco, “fail to fit neatly into the traditional male/female binary construct.” DiMarco’s case demonstrates the difficulty in determining appropriate housing arrangements in the prison system for people whose bodies do not conform to the
traditional male/female dichotomy.
This Note seeks to examine the problems that arise due to the insistence upon a binary society with regards to sex. First, this Note sheds light on sex as a spectrum, rather than the classic male/female dichotomy—particularly focusing on the different conditions of intersex people. Next, this Note discusses the ways in which prison authorities house and treat intersex prisoners. The potential constitutional violations of these housing classifications is analyzed with special emphasis on the DiMarco case.
Monday, January 12, 2015
The recent terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo may not have raised explicit issues of gender (although I couldn't help but think about the subject of male rage and attendant claims of patriarchal authority), but readers might find an article I wrote to be of interest. It argues that humor--especially a certain variety of barbed humor--should be protected as a principle of antiauthoritarianism: John Kang, "In Praise of Hostility: Antiauthoritarianism as Free Speech Principle," 32 Harv. J. L. & Public Policy 351 (2012).
Wednesday, January 7, 2015
As the recent flurry of tweeting on #AALS2015 showed, academic discourse is fully on social media. Everybody's doing it.
Here's a nice guide to why and how to Tweet for academic purposes.
TaxLawProf, Why Scholars Should Blog and Tweet
One of the recurring themes (from many different contributors) on the LSE Impact of Social Science blog is that a new paradigm of research communications has grown up — one that de-emphasizes the traditional journals route, and re-prioritizes faster, real-time academic communication. Blogs play a critical intermediate role. They link to research reports and articles on the one hand, and they are linked to from Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Google+ news-streams and communities. So in research terms blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now.
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Sahar F. Aziz, Texas A & M Law, has uploaded "Coercive Assimilationism: The Perils of Muslim Women's Identity Performance in the Workplace." It's forthcoming in the Michigan J. of Race & Law and its abstract reads as follows:
Fifty years after Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, unlawful discrimination continues to ail American workplaces. Despite the prevailing narrative that America is now "post-racial" after the election of the first African American president, equal opportunity still eludes many Americans. Their membership in racial, ethnic, or religious groups stigmatized as the "other" adversely affects their access to education, political empowerment, and equal opportunity in the workplace.
At the time Title VII was passed, victims often experienced explicit bias against their protected group. The law’s immediate effect was to ban overt prejudice causing disparate intergroup discrimination between men and women, blacks and whites, different ethnicities, and Christians and non-Christians.As a result, Title VII, along with other anti-discrimination laws, has been relatively successful in rooting out explicit bias in employment. Many employers now refrain from overtly treating employees disparately on account of an immutable characteristic. But, as the data show, the absence of discriminatory policies on paper does not always translate into a discrimination free workplace in practice. Rather, it pushes bias into more covert manifestations wherein facially neutral factors become proxies for unlawful discrimination.
While Title VII prohibits covert bias; it is ill equipped to prevent two increasingly prevalent forms of discrimination: 1) implicit bias arising from negative stereotypes of protected classes; and 2) disparate treatment of subgroups of protected classes who do not conform to coercive assimilationist pressures.Because an employee alleging discrimination must show that a similarly situated worker outside the protected class does not receive the same adverse treatment or impact, an employer who treats a subgroup of a minority better than another subgroup of the same minority can evade liability.
Of course, if the difference in treatment among the subgroups is based on performance and skills directly related to the work at issue, then no liability should attach. However, that is not always the case. Disparate treatment of members of the same protected class arises from negative racial, ethnic, or religious stereotypes that privileges those able and willing to perform their identity in accordance with assimilationist demands of the majority group. The effect is intragroup discrimination based on intergroup bias rooted in implicit negative stereotyping.
Female employees who fall under multiple protected classes face an intersection of identity performance pressures as women, racial or ethnic minorities, and religious minorities.The dominant group’s expectations of how women or members of minority groups should behave, dress, and communicate to be "professional" are often contradictory due to conflicting stereotypes. A Black woman, for example, who is assertive, ambitious, and exhibits leadership qualities associated as masculine characteristics, risks being stigmatized as aggressive, insubordinate, and threatening because of negative stereotypes of blacks. Meanwhile, her behavior contradicts gender conformity norms that women should be deferential, gentle, soft spoken, and pleasant. And if she is a Muslim, then her behavior triggers stereotypes of Muslims as terrorists, disloyal, foreign, and suspect.
For workplace anti-discrimination laws to eradicate these multiple binds that disparately impact women of color, this Article argues that Title VII jurisprudence should take into account intergroup discrimination based on intragroup identity performance to assure all employees, not just a subset of a protected class, are covered by workplace antidiscrimination law. As such, a plaintiff’s treatment should not be compared only with similarly situated employees outside the protected class but also with similarly situated employees within the protected class whose identity performance accommodates coercive assimilationism rooted in stereotypes.
This Article applies social psychology and antidiscrimination theories to the case of Muslim women of color in the workplace, an under-researched area in legal scholarship. I examine in detail the identity performance challenges and contradictions faced by Muslim women of color as "intersectionals" facing stereotypes against 1) Muslims as terrorists, violent, and disloyal; 2) Muslim women as meek, oppressed, and lacking individual agency; 3) women as sexualized, terminally second best to men, and uncommitted to their careers; 4) immigrants as forever foreign and undeserving of equal treatment; and 5) ethnic minorities from the Middle East and South Asia as barbaric, misogynist, and anti-American. I conclude that Muslim women of color are at risk of falling between the cracks of Title VII jurisprudence due to courts’ unwillingness to recognize the harms caused by coercive assimilationst pressures to conform one’s identity to comport to high status group norms, irrespective of the relevance to work performance.
Monday, January 5, 2015
Orna Alyagon Darr, Carmel Academic Center, has uploaded an article forthcoming from the Yale J. of Law and Humanities. It's titled "Relocated Doctrine: The Travel of the English Doctrine of Corroboration in Sex Offense Cases to Mandate Palestine." The abstract reads:
The spread of the British Empire was accompanied by the relocation of legal doctrines, which took on new meanings and uses. This article follows the relocation to Mandate Palestine of the common-law doctrine of corroboration of victim testimony in sex offense cases. In England, corroboration was a cautionary rule that expressed mistrust of female complainants. In jury-less Palestine, the rule also expressed deep distrust toward non-English complainants, especially children. While the British rulers of Palestine prided themselves on imposing sexual regulation tailored to protecting women and children, an analysis of the way corroboration was applied in that setting reveals a rigidly imposed and hard-to-meet evidentiary standard. British colonial judges maintained that demanding corroboration in sex offense cases was an implementation of English law. However, the rule was not simply a ‘transplant’ that reproduced the original but, rather, acquired its meaning within the specific social context and in the subjectivities of its users.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Lynn Paltrow (Nat'l Advocates for Pregnant Women) and Jeanne Flavin (Fordham Law) have uploaded "Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women's Legal Status and Public Health." The abstract reads:
In November 2011, the citizens of Mississippi voted down Proposition 26, a “personhood” measure that sought to establish separate constitutional rights for fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses. This proposition raised the question of whether such measures could be used as the basis for depriving pregnant women of their liberty through arrests or forced medical interventions. Over the past four decades, descriptions of selected subsets of arrests and forced interventions on pregnant women have been published. Such cases, however, have never been systematically identified and documented, nor has the basis for their deprivations of liberty been comprehensively examined. In this article we report on 413 cases from 1973 to 2005 in which a woman’s pregnancy was a necessary factor leading to attempted and actual deprivations of a woman’s physical liberty. First, we describe key characteristics of the women and the cases, including socioeconomic status and race. Second, we investigate the legal claims made to justify the arrests, detentions, and forced interventions. Third, we explore the role played by health care providers. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings and the likely impact of personhood measures on pregnant women's liberty and on maternal, fetal, and child health.
Stewart Chang, Whittier Law, has uploaded Dreams of My Father, Prison for My Mother: The H-4 Nonimmigrant Visa Dilemma and the Need for an "Immigration-Status Spousal Support." The abstract reads:
This article uses the situation of H-4 visa derivatives in the Asian Indian immigrant community as a case study to expose and critique larger incongruities within current American immigration policy, which on the one hand has historically extolled individuality, equality, and workforce participation as avenues to the American Dream, while enforcing gender hierarchy and dependency through requirements that prioritize family unity on the other. These incongruities remain largely unnoticed because the culture of dependency is often attributed to traditional ethnic culture, which then becomes the site of scrutiny and blame. The H-4 visa dilemma in the Asian Indian community illustrates how the legal restrictions stipulated in immigration law often produce and perpetuate recursions of ‘traditional culture’ within immigrant American families that ultimately consign Asian Indian women to perpetually occupy the place of the foreign ‘Other’ in American society. The ‘Othering’ of the ethnic alien culture perpetuates the illusion that America is not patriarchal in comparison, which concurrently promotes the idea that the foreign culture is inferior, behind, and incompatible. This constructed inferiority further forecloses these women from other avenues of justice in America, such as family law, which is similarly configured as to be culturally incompatible with the dependent immigrant subject. Thus, these women of- ten voluntarily choose to exclude themselves from the process, as did many of my Asian Indian clients. These are the assumptions and hierarchies regarding the mythos of independence in American identity that this article seeks to overcome, which then open avenues for some nonconventional solutions.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
A new study says women law professors are cited slightly more often than men. NLJ, Study: Women Law Professors Cited More Often. Citation suggests some measure of good or relevant work being done by women. But juxtapose that against the fact that women are published less often than men (32% of law reviews, 20% in top journals), a disparity that begins with student notes. (And similar to other disciplines where studies have shown, women are published less and cited less.) Is this the professional equivalent of the neighborhood kickball game, where the girl has to be twice as good to get picked?
Nancy Leong in Discursive Disparities details the consequences of women being left out of the writing game:
Such harms include economic loss, damage to career, and diminished public influence. These harms are serious in themselves. Perhaps more importantly, however, the discursive gender disparity means that men's words dominate public discourse, and to control discourse is to control reality. When men's words, thoughts, ideas, and arguments constitute the overriding public narrative, the result is that men determine the texture of daily life on matters both trivial and grave. The result of the discursive disparity is that male discourse exercises a disproportionate influence on our collective consciousness.
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Clare Huntington, Fordham Law, has uploaded "Postmarital Family Law" on SSRN. It's forthcoming from Stanford Law Review and its abstract reads:
Family law is based on marriage, but family life increasingly is not. The American family is undergoing a seismic shift, with marriage rates steadily declining and more than four in ten children now born to unmarried parents. Children of unmarried parents fall far behind children of married parents on a variety of metrics, contributing to stark inequality among children. Poverty and related factors explain much of this differential, but new sociological evidence highlights family structure — particularly friction and dislocation between unmarried parents after their relationship ends — as a crucial part of the problem. As the trend toward nonmarital childbearing continues to spread across class lines, the effect will be most pronounced among children.
This shift is the single most important issue facing family law today, yet scholars have been slow to engage with the structure and substance of the law in response. In family law, the marital family serves as a misleading synecdoche for all families, not only marginalizing nonmarital families, but also actively undermining their already tenuous bonds.
It is essential for family law to address the needs of both marital and nonmarital families. This entails a new theory of state regulation as well as new doctrines, institutions, and norms in practice. Some feminists argue that the state should privilege caregiving between parents and children instead of marital relationships, while other commenters stubbornly advocate marriage primacy — the elevation of marriage above other family forms — despite all evidence that marriage promotion fails. These responses fundamentally misunderstand nonmarital family life, in which dynamics between parents deeply affect children yet marriage is not realistically returning. We must instead understand that it is possible to separate marriage from parenthood but not relationships from parenthood. The state must accordingly help unmarried parents become effective co-parents, especially after their relationship ends, so they can provide children with the healthy relationships crucial to child development. This theoretical insight, and the family law that flows from it, will inaugurate a larger debate about how to prepare for a world in which marriage is not the defining institution of family life.
Monday, November 10, 2014
Amalia Miller and Carmit Segal, both economists, have an interesting article titled "Do Female Officers Improve Law Enforcement Quality?" It's uploaded on SSRN and the abstract reads:
We study the impact of the integration of women in US policing between the late 1970s and early 1990s on violent crime reporting and domestic violence escalation. Along these two key dimensions, we find that female officers improved police quality. Using crime victimization data, we find that as female representation increases among officers in an area, violent crimes against women in that area, and especially domestic violence, are reported to the police at significantly higher rates. There are no such effects for violent crimes against men or from increases in the female share among civilian police employees. Furthermore, we find evidence that female officers help prevent the escalation of domestic violence. Increases in female officer representation are followed by significant declines in intimate partner homicide rates and in rates of repeated domestic abuse. These effects are all consistent between fixed effects models with controls for economic and policy variables and models that focus exclusively on increases in female police employment driven by externally imposed affirmative action plans resulting from employment discrimination cases.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Ben A. McJunkin has recently uploaded on SSRN "Rank Among Equals," which is forthcoming from the Michigan Law Review. The abstract reads:
Dignity is on the march. As illustrated by Justice Kennedy’s recent majority opinion in United States v. Windsor, the concept — once seen as exclusive to moral philosophy — has taken on increasing importance in the legal realm, particularly in the recognition of individual human rights. Jeremy Waldron's recent book, Dignity, Rank, and Rights, offers a profound and provocative take on dignity's newfound centrality to law. Waldron contends that dignity currently operates as a universal legal status that entails individual rights. He suggests that this development reflects the gradual democratization of aristocratic privilege — a kind of "leveling up" of humanity.
This Review disentangles and separately examines the two core accounts of dignity in Waldron's work. The first, which purports to identify the nature of contemporary legal dignity as a form of status, appears to be promising step toward better understanding the role dignity plays in law. The second, Waldron's historical account of dignity's development that offers up something like an origin story for our contemporary conceptions, is more troubling. Borrowing from feminist theory and queer theory, as well as from the equality projects to which they are allied, I contend that Waldron's narratives of extending aristocratic privilege threaten to entrench inequality and injustice while limiting the potential for marginalized groups to employ dignity as a deeply remedial legal tool. I urge Waldron to revisit dignity's expressive connection to human worth, which has proven central to dignity-based antidiscrimination and antisubordination projects.
Friday, October 31, 2014
Or so argues one commentator. From the Jurist:
The Constitution provides no citizen of any gender or orientation a Constitutional right to marriage. The Constitution is silent on the issue of marriage. It is not mentioned, and therefore it is not a power delegated to the federal government to regulate. For lawyers, judges and in particular, Supreme Court justices, the inquiry on this issue should end there—right where silence demands judicial inaction.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Erin Sheley, GW Law, has uploaded "Doubled Jeopardy: The Condemned Woman as Historical Relic." It is forthcoming from Law and Literature and its abstract reads:
This article explores how Sir Walter Scott's fictional condemned women serve as relics through which a history of evolving British legal authority becomes present and legible. It argues that Scott's treatment of gender aestheticizes a particular concept of and reaction to the condemned woman in the context of the common law tradition generally. Using the backdrop of eighteenth century penal practice, it also shows how Scott establishes the female condemned body as an object necessarily fixed in time in order to contemplate legal change through a historically controlled process. The first part of the article considers the late eighteenth century movement to abolish the punishment of burning at the stake for women convicted of treason, and the extent to which competing understandings of chivalry reified an entire history of penal practice into the body of the burned woman. The second part argues that the interrelations between archaic practice and evolved norm which characterize the precedent-based common law system are dramatized in the fixed, idealized bodies of Constance de Beverly and Rebecca of York through which Scott acknowledges the implicit need for legal change over time, while simultaneously legitimizing adherence to a chivalric tradition.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Tomorrow, I am presenting as part ofthe University of Akron's Rethinking Gender series." The title of my talk is "Understanding Divorce Law Historically Through the Lens of Gender." It is based on a chapter of my book project, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Feminist Foundations of Family Law now nearing completion.
One running theme of the book is appreciating Stanton as a lay lawyer - a person trained by her father, who was a judge and lawyer who apprenticed young lawyers in their home; a person analytically inclined to "think like a lawyer;" who understood the normative function of the law; and who advocated for legislative reform and legal change. This legal understanding, I think, offers insights for us in both understanding her work in the nineteenth-century, and also incorporating its relevance today. See Tracy A. Thomas, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Notion of a Legal Class of Gender, in Feminist Legal History (Thomas & Boisseau, eds. NYUP 2011).
On divorce, Stanton was a vocal and persistent advocate for no-fault, or "easy divorce." But more importantly from my perspective is that she framed divorce as a woman's issue. Divorce was both a right and a remedy for woman's wrongs. Her life-long commitment to divorce reform attacked the problem of restrictive marriages, which confined women into legal obscurity under coverture, patriarchal social expectations, and sometimes domestic abuse.
Her framework of gender approached the divorce issue from the three classic feminist approaches: equality, difference, and systemic. As to formal equality, Stanton challenged the double moral standard that supported the law of divorce, for example, allowing divorce for the wife's adultery, but requiring "aggravated" adultery of adultery plus some additional fault like cruelty, dessertion, or sodomy by the husband. Her equality theories conceptualized divorce as a individual right, granting women autonomy and psychological freedom to control their own personal relations.
As to difference, Stanton argued that fault grounds for divorce should be expanded to address the different concerns of women. The law was too focused on grounds based on sexual privilege, as in adultery and failure to consummate. Instead, it needed to include grounds most relevant to women, cruelty and desertion. A cruelty divorce mechanism connected to Stanton's work on temperance and against domestic violence, arguing the necessity of releasing and protecting women and children in abusive relationships. Desertion was important for women because they needed a court to restore their legal rights as a single woman to contract, hold property, earn income, and have custody of their children. Men accomplished desertion by practice, simply walking away, often headed West, retaining their legal identity, all property rights, and the ability to earn a livelihood and thus in little need of the courts.
These specific arguments as to divorce grounds though were part of Stanton's much bigger and radical challenge to the system of marriage itself. She conceptualized marriage not as a covenant or status, but as a contract. And as a contract between two fully equal partners. And as a contract like any other employment or commercial contract that could be modified or terminated at the will of the parties. This gave her the legal foundation to justify no-fault divorce, though it didn't mollify the moral critics. Despite opposition from most other feminist reformers, Stanton continued to advocate for free access to divorce, fighting against the backlash and growing conservativism at the end of the century. See Tracy A. Thomas, Elizabeth Cady Stanton on the Federal Marriage Amendment, 22 Const. Comment. 137 (2005).