Monday, January 1, 2018
Daily Read: Reconstructing the (Male) Voice of Authority
Recall that Chief Justice Roberts' 2017 year-end report on the judiciary included an announcement of a working group to address the "depth of sexual harassment" in the judicial workplace. One might hope that the working group also addresses the seeming backtracking of the commitment to diversify the federal bench with regards to gender, as well as other disproportionately underrepresented people. Perhaps this new working group will re-examine the plethora of gender bias in the courts reports - - - and responses to them - - - from previous decades. (For a good discussion and survey see, Rena M. Atchison, A Comparison of Gender Bias Studies: Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and South Dakota Findings in the Context of Nationwide Studies, 43 S.D. L. Rev. 616 (1998)).
While not focusing on judicial diversity or sexual harassment specifically, Professor Susie Salmon (University of Arizona College of Law) argues that the problem of women's persistent inequality in the legal profession is rooted in classical notions of what it means to be a judge and advocate. In her article Reconstructing the Voice of Authority, 51 Akron Law Review 143 (2017), Salmon begins by quoting famous feminist classicist Mary Beard who has written tellingly about the mythic Penelope, the first woman in recorded Western history to be told to be quiet (and by her son). Salmon argues
until we stop indoctrinating law students that a “good lawyer” looks, sounds, and presents like the Classical warrior—that is, a male—these barriers will persist. For many law students, the first place they get to model what it means to look, sound, and act like a lawyer is in moot court or other oral-argument exercises. Especially in light of an overall law-school culture that reinforces the significance of inborn abilities, it is not hard to see how moot court’s frequent emphasis on “natural” oral-advocacy talent, and its implicit connection of that talent to traits traditionally associated with men, can influence how students—and later lawyers—develop rigid conceptions of what a good lawyer looks, sounds, and acts like. And continuing to uncritically teach the values of Classical rhetoric—values inherited from a culture that silenced women’s voices in the public sphere—exacerbates the problem.
Her concentration on moot court comes two decades after Mairi N. Morrison, May It Please Whose Court?: How Moot Court Perpetuates Gender Bias in the “Real World” of Practice, 6 UCLA WOMEN’S L.J. 49 (1995), and essentially asks why things have not changed.
Perhaps it is because there is a continued effort to police women's voices. As Salmon states:
And, as modern moot- court wisdom would have it, the voice of authority is still a deep and resonant one. No lesser authorities than U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and noted legal-writing expert Bryan Garner advise advocates to spend time on efforts to lower their vocal pitch, opining that “a high and shrill tone does not inspire confidence.” Scalia and Garner hardly stand alone; advice about lowering vocal register pervades books and articles on effective oral advocacy. Even those oral-advocacy experts who explicitly acknowledge the sexism that may underlie the connection between low voices and authority nonetheless counsel advocates to speak in the lower end of their vocal range.