The Supreme Court Needs a Mom

Fri, May 22, 2009

Moms & Politics


Another woman on the Supreme Court of the United States would be good, but I wonder if a woman who is a mother might be even better! No, not one to make the grilled cheese sandwiches and make sure everyone remembers to wear their warm coats. But someone who can view cases through the lenses of judicial experience and the reality of working motherhood.

It shouldn’t be such a stretch to expect Barack Obama to appoint a woman with his first Supreme Court nomination. After all, as Laura Stiller Rikleen pointed out at the Boston Globe:

[W]e wonder, by what possible analysis could a woman not be appointed as only the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court since it first assembled in 1790?

… [E]ven with our significant numbers in the legal profession, some commentators insist on classifying women as a “special interest” that the president will need to consider. How did one-half of the population and a third of the profession come to be viewed as a special interest?

Neither women nor mothers are special interest groups — we’re the ones who spend most of the money and manage our families, be they children, spouses, parents, siblings or more.

President Obama says he wants to appoint someone to the Supreme Court who can bring real life perspectives to the bench, as well as the necessary intellectual heft. I couldn’t agree more. Think about how things might have turned out differently if Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hadn’t been the only woman (and mother) on the court when it told Lilly Ledbetter that it wouldn’t do anything about the wage discrimination by her employer Goodyear and when the court suggested that there is a role for its paternalism when it comes to reproductive choice.

And if there had been other women’s voices on the Court, would the outcome have been different in the Court’s recent decision that employers are justified in discounting maternity leave when it comes to determining pension eligibility of female employees? One more blow to our fight for equal pay for women that Congress must address since the guys on the Court just don’t get it.

It wouldn’t surprise me if decisions like that make Sandra Day O’Connor wonder why she ever left the Court in the first place.

Justice Ginsburg has fought the good fight, especially with the language of her dissenting opinions, in calling out her fellow justices in their attitudes toward women, but she’s only one vote. And she’s 76. She needs some back-up.

I’d like to suggest that a mother who still has children at home (or isn’t too far out from that experience) could provide an interesting peek into the intersection of judicial ivory towers and real life — someone who is still living the daily reality of what it means to be the one in the family who brings home the bacon, fries it up in the pan, and makes sure the grease doesn’t get poured down the sink because she’ll be the one who has to take time off from work when the plumber has to come and snake the drain. Someone like that could be a powerful voice of reason when it comes to getting the remaining members of the Supreme Court to remember that there is a place for the law to intersect with real life.

The current short list of SCOTUS candidates contains many outstanding women candidates — Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Kim Wardlaw, Diane Wood and Jennifer Granholm — and several of them are mothers.

Another commentator has suggested that if Obama wants to consider a qualified candidate who is a mother, he might also take a look at Caroline Kennedy, Marian Wright Edelman and Sentaor Claire McCaskill. And if law degree isn’t necessary, I’d suggest that the President look around these parts of the blogosphere — I KNOW there are some women around here who could make some good decisions for the working families of America and teach some of those other justices a thing or two about the impact of making judicial decisions in a reality vacuum.

Obviously, there are plenty of women candidates who don’t have children who would make great additions to the court. But as long as we’re taking life experiences and personal lenses into consideration, why not think about how another mother’s view from the highest bench in the land might give us the additional ally we need when it comes to decisions that impact women’s health, women’s salaries and women’s lives?

After all, we’ve got a mother and a grandmother in the White House and one as Secretary of State. It’s time to beef up the presence of mothers in the court system too!

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7 Responses to “The Supreme Court Needs a Mom”

  1. Madama Ambi's Says:

    Hell yeah! If this country can seriously consider a mother who is also a grandmother for Vice President (ahem ahem…you know…what’s her name…uh…Palin), then we most certainly should consider a mother for the Supreme Court. Ok, call me an activist! These are pressing issues, not only for the U.S., but for the world. Read Chapter 8 of Michelle Goldberg’s brilliant book, The Means of Reproduction. Chapter 8 is titled The Birth Strike…don’t want to give it away, BUT…after you read her book, you will see how supporting women to be both mothers and workers is vital to the future of the world.

  2. tracy Says:

    I agree. Who better to walk a fine line between right and wrong than a mother.

    And who has more experience with minutia? Finding novel solutions? And the absurd?

    No one.

    Tracy

  3. Kelley Irish Says:

    Jennifer Granhom from Michigan. She has had to work with a Republican House and Senate here in the great lakes state.Not to mentions all the money the Amway Devos/VnAndal folks throw around to promote ultaconveratism. She had had to make tough choices and fight against lots of richly funded folk. Currently Devos is funding an anti-union group that has had the City school teachers working for two years without a contract. Granholm has handled the Devos folks-and surprised everyone when “Dick” wasn’t able to buy the election!

  4. landismom Says:

    Great post!

  5. Gina Chen Says:

    Interesting idea. I know you must have written this post before Sonia’s nomination was announced, and I’m reading it afterward.

    But I have to say as much as she seems a good pick in many ways, I was disappointed that she’s not a mom. In fact, I read through the story about her selection in my newspaper twice, just to make sure it really said she’s not a mom.

    It’s not that there’s anything wrong with not being a mom. But I agree with you that moms see things through a different lens than women who aren’t moms. And we need that lens.

    Plus, a pet peeve of mine is when only the childless women get the nod for the job, the promotion, etc. It just seems wrong because most women have children, so those who do not are really the exception.

    Of course, there’s also the issue of fatherhood, and the fact that it’s not even a factor in anything.

    But I do think motherhood changes a woman in ways that far outnumber the changes fatherhood brings in a man. That’s just life. Men and woman are different.

  6. Gina Chen Says:

    Interesting idea. I know you must have written this post before Sonia’s nomination was announced, and I’m reading it afterward.

    But I have to say as much as she seems a good pick in many ways, I was disappointed that she’s not a mom. In fact, I read through the story about her selection in my newspaper twice, just to make sure it really said she’s not a mom.

    It’s not that there’s anything wrong with not being a mom. But I agree with you that moms see things through a different lens than women who aren’t moms. And we need that lens.

    Plus, a pet peeve of mine is when only the childless women get the nod for the job, the promotion, etc. It just seems wrong because most women have children, so those who do not are really the exception.

    Of course, there’s also the issue of fatherhood, and the fact that it’s not even a factor in anything.

    But I do think motherhood changes a woman in ways that far outnumber the changes fatherhood brings in a man. That’s just life. Men and woman are different.

  7. Sharon Says:

    And Sonia Sotomayor it is. I am impressed with her record, even if she isn’t a mom. I like that she’s had support in the past from both sides of the aisle, which will make it harder to deny her the position, though I know the conservatives will try because they think that’s their job.


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