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.
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Yes, yes, YES!
I know! Seriously, I haven’t been able to get this quote of out my mind because I’d never looked at it like that before. I’d be happy with four women, five would be great. But when I started thinking about nine, I thought, she’s right! But can you imagine trying to line up nine gay justices or nine Jewish justices? People would revolt. And yet….it’s one of those things that seem so obvious and yet I’d never looked at it that way.
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I had all those same thoughts when I first saw her quote. You’re right; there would be a very ugly uproar if the court were representative of the real world. And that says so much about us and about privilege.
I had all those same thoughts when I first saw her quote. You’re right; there would be a very ugly uproar if the court were nrepresentative of the real world. And that says so much about us and about privilege.
Sorry about that repeat. WordPress was warring with my iPad.
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I think that would be awesome!
Women are too nice. We settle too often. We’re like, ‘we’re ok with one or two. Four? Great!!’ I’ve never even thought about nine because, well, that wouldn’t be fair would it. Said no man ever.
Six to nine white men? Have you been to The Netherlands in November/December – Zwarte Piet?
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Then it would surely be six to nine white men…in blackface.
I’ll note that last two women appointed were appointed and approved because they were women. Example, Kagan had zero experience as a judge when nominated and confirmed. Does that sound qualified to you? Feminists should be just as offended by this, as they are about the old boys network the SC used to be.
Second point, there should be an age limit on judges. Scalia was 80. Ginsberg is 83. Kennedy is 80. It’s known the human mind declines. Not as fast as the body, but it does decline. The decisions made by this group are literally world-altering in some cases. We need people we are 100% sure are up to the task. People who are not 30+ years removed from having any sort of real first person understanding of the day to day lives of citizenry. Not people’s whose mental faculties are possibly in question. 75 should be the upper end.
I’m sure they aren’t the first two who had less experience than some others. SCOTUS justices are always political as well as experience, so was Sotomeyer chosen over someone else because she would tick and extra box or two? Possibly. I imagine the same held true for Thurgood Marshall at the time. I’m not offended in the least. When you are starting with a bigger handicap (in the sporting sense, not the physical one), sometimes you have to take advantage of the whatever is available until the playing field is level. I adore Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Even at 83 she stands for so many of the same things I do, but I get the point about the age limit. I’ve also seen a lot of talk about term limits for SCOTUS justices. All interesting arguments with valid points.
Very true, and shows there’s still a lot of work to be done in the way of equality, and how we think of under represented groups.
Yes. And the worst thing is, when you have programs in place (like affirmative action) to help not even level out the playing field but just get it to a point where it can begin to level, then people on the other side cry foul. So once again it’s like a lose/lose situation for the under-respresented.