Yes, I will bring the understanding of a woman to the Court, but I doubt that alone will affect my decisions. I think the important thing about my appointment is not that I will decide cases as a woman, but that I am a woman who will get to decide cases.
--Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
When I was in college, Brian, Lauren and I went to see the former governor of Texas, Ann Richards, speak on Douglas campus about women in politics. I knew from her 1988 keynote address that Richards was funny and would give a good speech, and indeed, she did not disappoint. But I was surprised that she made one of the most cogent arguments in favor of parity for women in politics that I had ever heard.
Richards told a story about how, in Texas until about 20 years ago, a woman could not get a mortgage or loan without having a man co-sign for her. Long story short, it was only till some very grumpy female politicians brought the issue to the attention of the majority male legislature that anything changed. And that, she pointed out, is the best reason there can be for women to hold political office. Not because we are better, or even that different, as she put it, but because we experience situations differently, just as a Latino American, an African American, or an Asian American will experience America in a different way from a white person, a man and a woman will have different experiences with America as well. And we can only benefit from having as many people at the table with those different experiences.
She explained, the men in the legislature didn't think that women should have to have a man co-sign for her.... it was just that they had no idea that such a law existed. And with all due respect to my white male friends, I have certainly seen a lack of knowledge that sexism still exists in our country today, as does racism.... it just isn't as clearly outlined as it once was.
And I see that on the Supreme Court and the President's selection of yet another WASPy white man to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, who, for all her shortcomings, knows what it means to be a woman in a man's world. Justice O'Connor brought something to the table from her own personal experience on a daily basis. You could read it in her opinions.
Today, nearly 50% of law school graduates are women. There were any number of women that Bush could have selected to replace O'Connor, but he picked another white guy.... and so the lenses through which the world was viewed on that long bench at the Court shrank again. It upsets me that more people, women especially, don't feel comfortable saying, "Hey! Wait a minute!" because they'll be branded a feminist (as if that were a bad thing - don't most people think men and women should be equal?).
Look, I didn't expect to love anyone that Bush was going to pick. I hoped for another O'Connor, but realistically knew that wasn't likely. I didn't think he'd go for another Thomas or Scalia because he doesn't want that kind of fight right now. But I did hope, and honestly thought, it would be a woman. We're over 50% of this country, a CNN poll showed that nearly 80% of those sampled believed the new appointment should be a woman, and while it's been ridiculously slow, there have been major improvements in the last 20 years.
Let's face facts. A woman's role in this country's political system is completely behind the times. Ireland didn't gain independence until 1920, but has already had two female presidents. India, India, where they, on occasion, kill baby girls, has had a female prime minister. A bunch of European countries, including the conservative Catholic ones, have had women presidents and prime ministers. And where are we? We haven't even had a woman run for president in the 20th century. Two women on the Supreme Court. There are currently 14 women in the Senate, and that's considered a good number. Why? Why is it wrong to think there should be people at the table, who, regardless of political orientation, can bring a different perspective to the conversation? Why do we hate tough, smart women? It's not just conservatives, it's liberals too who are guilty of this.
Plenty of women's groups are concerned over a variety of issues, but no one makes a peep about the first female justice of the Supreme Court being replaced by Whitey McWhitebread.... Roberts seems perfectly qualified for the job. And if it were Rehnquist leaving, and Roberts were the appointee, I'd shrug. But I sometimes wonder where women are headed in this country, and why we're no longer allowed to complain about the shrinking place we have at the table.