The other day I ran across a quotation from Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
“When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? And I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
It’s the classic feminist softener: “We don’t want to rule above men, we want to be equal. We don’t think we are better, we want to be recognized for being as good.”
It’s where the argument for feminism both wins and loses. Softening the ideal to embrace equality makes it palatable, more easily digestible…but doing that means it will never go far enough. That palatable notion of equality is why, until I saw Justice Ginsberg’s quote, I’d never even stopped to think of a Supreme Court made up of nine women.
In 1981 the first woman was appointed to The Supreme Court. Sandra Day O’Connor’s appointment and confirmation was a news-worthy hurrah. For a time there were two women serving simultaneously. Right now, three. A fourth would certainly would be Wow Worthy. Five, the majority? Unthinkable.
Imagine the UPROAR that would ensue if the Supreme Court were made up of nine women. Think of the ARGUMENTS of unequal representation. Think of the legality and constitutionality that would be called into question. The briefs and motions filed would be enough to break those Justice scales beyond repair.
Yet until Justice O’Connor, the court was made up of nine men and no one blinked an eye. Until Thurgood Marshall’s appointment in 1967, it was made up of white men. No one blinked an eye. Every other American citizen was expected to trust that nine, white men would do their best to uphold the laws of the land: Women, African-Americans, Jews, LGBT, Latinos, Native Americans, Naturalized Citizens. All and sundry were simply expected to place their trust in the hands of six to nine white men.
This argument is not that those six to nine white men didn’t do that to the best of their ability. Rather that, as the Notorious RBG pointed out, the expectancy or legitimacy of a court of nine, white men was never called into question. Yet reverse the statistics or the demographics and see where it gets you.
Think of a court made up of….
Nine women; or
Nine Latinos; or
Nine recent immigrants.
How about nine, white, homosexual men or
Nine Jews; or
How about nine justices of mixed background that didn’t include a white male?
Would you trust the country’s constitutionality to be upheld and best served by nine women or nine African-Americans or nine Muslims? If you hesitate or balk, remember that those circumstances are exactly what everyone outside the realm of the white male has been asked to do since the establishment of the court in 1789.
How ironic the typical representations of both Liberty and Justice are female.
Just think. Nine Ladies of Liberty?
Why yes, thank you very much.