Bio: Born in Highland Park, Illinois; Yale Law School; law professor at Harvard since 1981, dean since 2009. Vice chair, Legal Services Corp. board of directors.

If picked: She would be the only nonjudge on the bench. Wide interests and experience: international human rights, mass tort litigation. Viewed as compassionate scholar.



Minow would face two challenges as a Supreme Court nominee, according to a number of observers: no judicial experience and a wealth of writings on a wide variety of topics.

“The speeches [Justice] Sotomayor gave before going on to the Court often cited Martha Minow as support,” noted one court watcher. “There’s lot of writing out there and her writing has never been equivocal. She has been very clear about her thoughts and positions.”

Descriptions of Minow almost always involve superlatives, both as to her personality and intellect.

“I regard her as one of the truly bright lights of her generation, an outstanding scholar and intellect of her era,” said one colleague.

“I don’t think anybody in my generation has thought more deeply about justice and the nature of law as she has,” said another colleague.

Minow’s academic research focuses on legal issues facing children, women, members of racial, religious, and ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities. Her books address civil procedure, family law, social services, and societies emerging from violent conflicts.

Minow has co-directed studies of U.S. responses to recent immigrants, and of public school access for disabled children, and has served on many human rights-related boards.

Minow is among the two or three most prominent legal feminists — those who describe their work as work in feminism.

“If that label is scary to you, that’s who she is,” said Peter Shane of Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. “Having said that, I do think by virtue of her philosophy but also her disposition, she is as liberal in the sense of open and open-minded a person as I’ve ever known.”

One potential negative, from Republicans’ perspective, could be her views on international law and the role of the United States.

“No more than any other judge would she ever regard legal outcomes in the U.S. as dictated by anybody’s law but ours,” insisted Shane. “But if Republicans want someone oblivious to or contentious about the concerns of other countries, that would not be her. She would be in many ways the intellectual heir of Thurgood Marshall. I’m not saying everything she would do would be exactly what he would do. But if the vision of a Thurgood Marshall is not what you want on the Court, you would probably be unhappy with Martha.”

She has a whole body of scholarship that people and groups would scrutinize for their own purposes, noted a veteran of the confirmation process. “Her hearings would be filled with quotations of her work,” he said, adding, “Is she controversial? I seriously doubt she would be dean of Harvard if she were. But these days, it’s hard to be a law professor who has written on a variety of issues and not be controversial to some people.”