Msnowe's Blog


Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on April 14, 2009

Yesterday, Slate posted an intriguing story about female supreme court justices, and the question of gender and its effect on the decisions of the court. The article starts with the basic idea that (hopefully) Obama will at least consider a (long) shortlist of extremely qualified female candidates to appoint to the bench, should the inevitable vacancy occur within his term of office. What bothers m.snowe about this idea is the simple notion that Obama should just appoint a woman to make it “more fair” or “balance out” the court. While m.snowe would be ecstatic to see a kick-ass female judge on the court, she bristles (actually, more like shivers up a storm) when she reads that somehow, a woman “judges differently” than a man. Yes, it is a given that because a woman is in fact a woman, she will not be able to set aside that fact (because as any group that is not the privileged straight white man knows, you are constantly reminded of what causes your subjection), and she will be prone to a better understanding of the issues that come along with being the more discriminated-against sex.  That, however, (as Sandra Day O’Connor has said many times) should be something that is separate from the law.

One of the other things that bothered me about this article was its woman-centric focus. As the article tries to highlight for a moment, it’s the unique individual experiences of the justices that ends up making an effect on the other judges…they use the example of Thurgood Marshall, and his experiences which opened the other judges’ eyes in terms thoughts on race. It’s a contentious argument, but it is fairly reasonable to assume that no one can fully understand a minority’s situation unless they have experienced it themself–as a woman, a person of a different race, a person of a different sexual preference, etc. (This is separate from having the compassion and acceptance and empathy for all people–which is essential.) And so, while m.snowe would like to see a few more women on the court, she believes that this is only the starting point. m.snowe would like to see some more ethnic diversity. And, just maybe, some sexual preference diversity. M.snowe doesn’t pretend to know what it’s like to be of a different race or preference than her own. And that’s why she looks to other intelligent people and their experiences to help inform her own efforts. What would be better than some guidance from the highest court in the land? Perhaps the senate and house would follow? Because honestly, the diversity in the legislative branch is fairly scant, too.

What m.snowe would like to stress is this: despite a woman’s ability to be aware of discrimination against women, just as any minority or subjected group might similarly be able to grasp, the differing opinions and moral codes within genders, sexual orientation groups, ethnic minorities, etc., etc., are far more diverse even among themselves. You can find any viewpoint you’d like to if you poll enough people. And this grouping, this idea that somehow men rule differently than women (that a woman is more likely to emotionally sympathize, etc.), and making that your argument for having more women on the bench–that is just not on. Obama and his sucessors should evaluate the abilities of candidates regardless of sex. And perhaps that will provide the most parity.  m.snowe wants the best judge for the job. Sadly, opportunities for women to get to the highest positions in government, and especially in judicial branch jobs, have been thwarted in the past, present, and sadly, the future (just look at what O’Connor and Ginsburg had to go through–O’Connor could only find a job as a secretary after graduating in the top tier of her law school class). Let’s hope that Obama is given the shot to at least consider and hear about some of the most qualified female candidates, not to mention those candidates of all shapes, sizes, colors, orientations, beliefs …