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Winter 2012




Yale Law School




In this Essay, written as part of a symposium on Judith Resnik’s and Dennis Curtis's sumptuously illustrated volume Representing Justice, I offer a historically sensitive interpretation of the figure of Justice in woman suffrage spectacle and propaganda. American suffragists were drawn to Justice as a symbol of women's claim to political and legal rights. Why? Surely one reason is that, as Resnik and Curtis demonstrate, by the early twentieth century Justice had ascended as a distinctively resonant symbol of law and law's legitimacy in a democratic polity. Precisely because Justice was a legible symbol of law's legitimacy, she was ripe for appropriation by suffragists, who wielded Justice's familiar form to declare the illegitimacy of laws enacted by lawmakers who, they contended, had been elected through undemocratic processes. By attending to suffragists' appropriation of Justice in their efforts to secure a federal woman suffrage amendment, I build on the work of constitutional law scholars who, in recent years, have encouraged us to acknowledge the central importance of public agitation -- including protests, parades, and marches -- in the development of constitutional law and meaning. Early twentieth-century suffragists’ deployment of the figure of Justice shows how an iconographic tradition, long used by the state to legitimize the law’s authority, could be repurposed by activists challenging state-sanctioned injustice. In and of itself, that tactic was not novel. For centuries, marginalized groups had used the symbols and rituals of officialdom to contest the legitimacy of governing customs and laws through various modes of appropriation, most notably through parody and inversion. But the suffragists’ appropriation of Justice was unusual in an important respect: They enlisted her in a concerted effort to define and defend a new status for women as recognized participants in the political process.


Boston University School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 12-57

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