FAN 199 (First Amendment News) SPECIAL ISSUE: 38 Women Who Argued First Amendment Free Expression Cases in the Supreme Court: 1880 -2018

Olive H. Rabe (credit: Boulder Daily Camera)

It was a Friday, April 12, 1929, when Olive Rabe, counsel for the appellant, entered the old Senate chamber with its grayish walls. She walked down the red carpet toward the bench, took her assigned seat at a mahogany table, and waited for the justices to enter the small chamber from the robing room across the Capitol corridor.

Only a few other women had done what she was about to do, argue a case before the Supreme Court — the first woman lawyer being Belva Ann Lockwood. (A couple of pro se women preceded her.)

There in that solemn chamber, with Chief Justice William Howard Taft in the center flanked by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Louis Brandeis and their brethren, Rabe (age 40) would make the case for another woman, Rosika Schwimmer (age 51). She would be the first woman to argue a “free speech” case in the high court. For any number of reasons, it was a rare moment in Supreme Court history. — Ronald Collins & David Hudson (May 26, 2008)

* * * *

Eleanor Holmes Norton

When it comes to the First Amendment, relatively little is known about the roles women played in the development of that body of law. While many may know of Justice Holmes’s oft-quoted free-speech dissent in U.S. v. Schwimmer (1929), how many are aware that Olive H. Rabe, a labor lawyer, represented the respondent in that case?  Schwimmer, however, was a free speech statutory interpretation case but not, strictly speaking, a First Amendment case. It would take another 24 years before a woman  (Florence Perlow Shientag) would argue a First Amendment free expression case —  Superior Films v. Dep’t of Education of Ohio (1953) (for respondent). Thereafter, it took  15 years before another woman would do likewise. That woman was Eleanor Holmes Norton, who successfully argued on behalf of the petitioner in Carroll v. President and Commissioners of Princess Ann (1968). Four years later Sophia H. Hall successfully argued on behalf of the appellant in Grayned v. City of Rockford (1972) (oral argument transcript here). The world was starting to change, but not fast or often enough.  

Barbara Underwood (credit: NY Daily News)

The list below consists of 38 women who  argued 43 First Amendment freedom of expression (speech, press and assembly) cases before the Supreme Court between 1880 and 2018.  Since the data bases I consulted started in 1880, my list begins there and continues through the 2018 line of Supreme Court cases.

The woman who argued the most such cases was Barbara D. Underwood (3 cases) followed by Patricia Millett (2 cases), Ann E. Beeson (2 cases), and Elena Kagan (2 cases). Pamela Karlan was the last woamn to argue a First Amendment free expression case — Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida  (2018).

To the best of my knowledge, the list below is complete though given the difficulty of identifying the lawyers and cases, it might be that I overlooked someone — if so, please inform me and I’ll update the list.


_____________The 38 Women________________

 1.    Bridget C. Asay
2.  Ann E. Beeson
3.   Edna L. Caruso
4.   Wilhelmina Reuben Cooke
5.   Sally Louise Dilgart
6.  Kathi Alyce Drew
7.  Mary Dunlap
8.   Leslie D. Edwards
9.   Lucinda M. Finley
10.   Kristin Booth Glen
11.   Christine O. Gregoire
12.   Sophia H. Hall
13.   Pamela Harris
14.   Elena Kagan
15.  Pamela Karlan
16.  Deborah LaBelle
17.  Mary Lee Leahy
18.  Cindy S. Lee
19.   Barbara B. McDowell
20.   Marjorie H. Matson
21.   Jennifer Grace Miller
22.  Patricia Millett
23.   Analeslie Muncy
24.   Erin E. Murphy
25.  Eleanor Holmes Norton 
26.   Rebecca T. Partington
27.   Margie J. Phelps
28.  Dorothy Prengler
29.  Maureen O. Reilly
30.  Joyce Ellen M. Reikes
31.  Bonnie I. Robin-Vergeer 
32.  S. Adele Shank
33.  Florence Perlow Shientag
34.  Maria Milagros Solo
35.  Brenda Wright
36.   Barbara D. Underwood
37.   Natalie E. West
38.   Anne Owings Wilson
General Informational Sources Drawn Upon

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