McKeown's nomination ran into trouble, initially, because of her pro-bono legal work for the Washington Association of Churches. In 1994, she helped the mainstream church group work with the ACLU in trying to declare unconstitutional two citizen initiatives, written to deny gay people protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
McKeown also came under attack from conservatives for signing a resolution urging the American Bar Association to support Roe v. Wade.
Notable cases: In 2007, McKeown wrote the 9th Circuit opinion that barred an Islamic charity from showing, with a confidential government document, that the National Security Agency had wiretapped its offices without a warrant. McKeown accepted "the need to defer to the executive on matters of foreign and national security" and wrote that judges "surely cannot legitimately find ourselves second-guessing the executive in this arena." She rejected, however, the Justice Department's argument that "the very subject matter" of the litigation was a state secret—a position the Obama administration has continued to take.
In 2007, McKeown pushed the Bush EPA to update its water-pollution guidelines under the Clean Water Act, by recognizing the effect of new technology. The EPA position that it did not have to take new technology into account "strains credulity to the breaking point," McKeown wrote. In the famed challenge to the Pledge of Allegiance that came before the 9th Circuit, McKeown voted for a rehearing of the three-judge panel ruling that under God in the pledge violated the Constitution's separation of church and state. McKeown did not say that she thought the panel had gotten the case wrong but that it presented "a constitutional question of exceptional importance."
Hillary Clinton, 62, was active in law for two decades between graduating from Yale Law School in 1973 and moving to Washington as first lady in 1993. After a brief stint working for the House judiciary committee on the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, she moved to Arkansas to reunite with law school flame Bill Clinton, where she taught at the University of Arkansas law school and joined the Rose Law Firm. She became the first female partner there in 1979 and continued to practice during Bill Clinton's tenure as governor. She has remained in Washington for the last 16 years, including eight as the junior senator from New York and now as Obama's secretary of state.
Much of Clinton's early work was devoted to advocacy for children, including championing the Children's Defense Fund. She co-founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. Her first scholarly article, published in the Harvard Educational Review, was titled "Children Under the Law" and argued that children should not be categorically treated as incompetent to make legal decisions up until their 18th birthdays. (She elaborated on this topic in future articles, stating that courts should intervene in family cases only in extreme circumstances but that children in such cases should be treated as gradually more independent as they mature.)
At the Rose Law Firm, Clinton focused on intellectual property and patent infringement cases. She also worked in business litigation, including work for Wal-Mart and TCBY. (It was also at Rose that she billed 60 hours of work to Madison Guaranty, which later became a subject of intense scrutiny during the Whitewater investigation.) The National Law Journal twice named her one of the 100 most influential American lawyers. If Clinton were to get the nod, her pro-choice record would be scrutinized—along with plenty of other positions she has taken on the campaign trail.
Martha Minow, 55, is a star legal academic at Harvard Law School and a leading expert on family law, a field she entered in 1980 despite being told it would stereotype her. "She helped bring alive the field," former Stanford Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan (a fellow short-lister) said in a 1997 profile in the Boston Globe. Minow's interest in making sure that kids grow up in stable families, she explained in a 2001 op-ed, led her to become a plaintiff in a suit that challenged the constitutionality of a voter initiative in Massachusetts that tried to ban same-sex marriage. "Research makes it irrefutable that a definition of family founded solely on an official marriage of a man and a woman is out of touch with how people actually live," she wrote.
Minow has also been active in human rights, serving on the Independent International Commission on Kosovo, which tried to understand whether the atrocities committed there in the 1990s could have been prevented, and helping to launch a program of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees called Imagine Coexistence, which assessed efforts to reintegrate refugees after violent ethnic conflict and produced a book.
Her latest book, Just Schools, is about how schools can pursue social equality and accommodate students from different racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. She talks about those themes here. As a teacher, she takes steps to make sure that all kinds of students speak up in class. "I am quite conscious to count seconds, usually 25 to 30, between raising a question and finding a volunteer," she told the New York Times in 2004. "Some people who take time to think might have better things to say. Women typically won't shoot up their hands first."