Picturing Justice, the On-Line Journal of Law and Popular Culture

Reginia Judge
is an Assistant Professor in the Legal Studies Department of Montclair State University (MSU). In addition to teaching a hands-on course entitled "Computer Applications in the Legal Environment", she lectures in the areas of criminal law and procedure and real estate law. Reginia is the coordinator of MSU's Paralegal Studies Undergraduate Minor, Post- BA Certificate Program and Legal Studies Academic Computing. Before dedicating herself to paralegal education on a full-time basis, Reginia served as the Prosecutor of the Hudson County Superior Court, Special Civil Part, Traffic Division, an Assistant Hudson County Counsel and as a Professional Liability Claim Analyst. Reginia is a member of the New Jersey Bar, The American Association for Paralegal Education and the North East Academy of Legal Studies in Business. She has presented and published in the areas of student retention, electronic commerce and legal technology. Her current research interests are in the areas of law and literature.

Read other reviews:

-Internet Movie Database
-All Movie Guide



Of course we want politicians to possess a since of morality. Because they are entrusted with such tremendous amounts of authority, we want politicians to be honest and forthright. At what point. however, does our investigation of them move beyond seeking to appoint an honorable person and become a witch-hunt?

Feature article

The Contender

by Reginia Judge

There are several themes illustrated in The Contender. This film utilizes the process of selecting political leaders as a vehicle through which we consider topics such as sexism and the right of privacy.

Laine Hanson may very well be the first woman to hold the office of Vice President of the United States. Three weeks have passed since the vice president's death and the president is anxious to name a successor. His designate is Senator Laine Hanson, the gentle lady from Ohio. Before she can assume office, however, Senator Hanson must participate in a confirmation hearing administered by the House of Representatives. The hearing will assist the House in deciding whether to reject or consent to her nomination. Herein lies Senator Hanson's nemesis, Senator Shelly Runyon, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Runyon has another candidate in mind for the vice presidency. For this reason, he will do whatever it takes to ensure enough votes against Senator Hanson. In order to discredit and humiliate her, Senator Runyon leaks information about an alleged sexual encounter Senator Hanson had in college.

The focus of this film is the inquest Senator Hanson undergoes as part of the confirmation process. The senator feels that she is being subjected to a higher level of scrutiny because she is a woman. In actuality, her gender is both an asset and a liability. The president makes no secret of the fact that putting a woman in office means a great deal to him. He believes in the concept of making the American dream blind to gender and wants to crystallize this belief by choosing a female vice president.

The film blatantly illustrates an instance in which she is subjected to a double standard because she is female. Upon her nomination, Senator Hanson's husband is advised that he should stay behind the scenes during the confirmation period. It is explained that although a wife seen behind her husband is viewed as supportive, a husband in the same position is viewed as a puppeteer. This conveys the notion that it is acceptable for a woman to be seen supporting her husband, but she is not worthy of similar public encouragement. On the surface this sentiment imparts a since of shame upon men, but what it really does is cast a disparaging light on women. It sends a message that it is all right for a woman to "stand by her man," but she is not entitled to reciprocal treatment, at least not in public. Casting a negative reflection on men cleverly accomplishes this objective.

In the senator's opinion, her gender has precipitated the inquiry about a sexual encounter that supposedly occurred when she was nineteen years old. She states, "If I were a man nobody would care how many sexual partners I had in college. If it's not relevant for a man, it's not relevant for a woman." Senator Hanson is described as a cancer of virtuous decay because of an incident that purportedly occurred more then twenty-five years ago. Questions that must be raised at this juncture are: Why is this incident so critical to the confirmation process? Is a virtuous candidate more trustworthy and reliable than one who is not? By whose standard should one be characterized as virtuous?

The very mention of the past of a candidate or political appointee raises the issue of the right of privacy. Must the public know if a candidate committed adultery or had children out of wedlock in order to determine if the candidate is fit for office? Should moral character be one of the barometers upon which we elect our public officials? Of course we want politicians to possess a since of morality. Because they are entrusted with such tremendous amounts of authority, we want politicians to be honest and forthright. At what point. however, does our investigation of them move beyond seeking to appoint an honorable person and become a witch-hunt?

The measure of an individual's capability for assuming office should be based on the individual's opinions, philosophies and political track record. However, this is not always the case. The lives of public figures, both past and present, are placed under a magnifying glass for the entire world to examine. The confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas exemplified this fact. Additionally, it is common knowledge that the awareness of marital infidelities can cost candidates elections. Remember Gary Hart? Yet in contrast, the Monica Lewinsky affair didn't seem to hurt President Clinton's standing with the public even after his impeachment. President Clinton's situation evidences the fact that public sentiment can go either way.

In refusing to address any questions based on her past sexual conduct, Senator Hanson makes an important statement. Her position indicates that these types of personal questions have no place in the political arena and therefore she will not address them to either confirm or deny their accuracy. She states, "I cannot respond to the committee's lightly veiled accusations because to do so would imply that it was all right for them to be made." Imagine what would happen if all those with political aspirations responded like the senator.

Posted February 1, 2001

Would you like to comment on this article? Please submit your comments here.

 Top of page

 Home | Silver Screen | Small Screen | News & Views