Beginning in the 1960s, U.S. feminist movement litigators organized public-interest legal organizations to promote women’s rights through legal mobilization in the courts. We investigate all U.S. Supreme Court decisions involving gender equality from 1965 to 2016 to discern the impact of involvement of these feminist movement litigation groups as legal counsel. Our findings show that organized feminist cause lawyers increase the likelihood of decisions expanding women’s legal rights and/or promoting gender equality. Our results also indicate that broader legal and political opportunities combine with legal-activist efforts to produce these judicial outcomes. However, when the Supreme Court is highly conservative regarding abortion rights, feminist cause lawyers face difficulty winning cases. Our research suggests the importance for movement scholars of considering activist litigation, and our findings indicate that a theory of the joint effects of activist legal mobilization and broader legal/political opportunities can explain the judicial outcomes movement actors seek.

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