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Book Chapter
Commentary on Bradwell v. Illinois
Kimberly Holst
Feminist Judgments: Rewritten Opinions of the United States Supreme Court
Kathryn M. Stanchi et al. eds., Cambridge University Press 2016
Library Access


When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the denial of a law license to Myra Bradwell, two historical currents were diverted. First, the decision was a setback for the nineteenth-century wave of feminism focusing on formal equality. As evidenced by the nascent woman suffrage movement, these feminists were working to eliminate sex-based barriers to women's exercise of civil and political rights. Second, the decision undermined the development of an expansive interpretation of the Reconstruction Amendments adopted after the Civil War. The Court apparently feared that the restructuring contemplated by these Amendments would dangerously shift the balance of power from the states to the federal government. Between 1870 and 1873, the Court retreated from endorsing the exercise of federal power and increasingly invalidated Acts of Congress while refusing to restrict discriminatory state actions.
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