Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Appearance doesn't matter for male Supreme Court justices

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

I've been under a rock for the past day finishing a paper, and so I'm a little late with this. But I am really pissed - maybe it's the sleep deprivation, or too much coffee - or wait, maybe this is just totally screwed up! We all heard that David Souter is resigning from the Supreme Court, and immediately people began speculating about a female replacement. I was excited - until I remembered that I always get optimistic and forget that we have a little test for female candidates for anything in this country, and I'll tell you right now, you don't need a pencil to take it. The Daily Beast reports that the two women widely considered to be frontrunners for the position, former Harvard Law School dean and current Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and federal appellate judge Sonia Sotomayor, might be too fat for the position.

Because I know that I'm in a bit of a grouchy mood, I'm not going to start discussing the attractiveness of the male justices of the Supreme Court bench (that would not end prettily). Some people have attempted to justify this absurdity by saying that we don't just want the youngest justice (who will presumably live the longest), we need the healthiest justice - and that excludes Kagan and Sotomayor, who don't seem to spend as much time at aerobics class as another possible choice, Kim McLane Wardlaw (who was, as a side note, described by legal gossip site Underneath Their Robes as "Heather Locklear in a black robe").

Paul Campos, the author of the Daily Beast article, hits the problem right on the nose. "For some men," he writes, "the only thing more intolerable than the sight of a powerful woman is the sight of a powerful woman they don’t want to sleep with." I can't believe that these nominations are already turning into such a shitstorm, or that people are already saying such bigoted, idiotic things about these very qualified women. But then again, it's also easy to forget that we've only had 2 female Supreme Court justices, which is a rant I'll save for another day. Let me just say though - there were far more serious issues with the last nominee, Samuel Alito, who during his time at Princeton was a member of a group which sought to limit the number of women who were admitted (and opposed affirmative action, as a pleasant side note). Nobody commented on whether Alito was sufficiently attractive for the job - perhaps because there were actual reasons to doubt his qualifications.


At May 5, 2009 at 10:17 PM , Anonymous Angela said...

True, and we desperately need a woman on the Supreme Court. Preferably a minority or a lesbian, but I'll settle for just a lack of Y chromosome for now.

At May 6, 2009 at 4:44 PM , Blogger LSG said...

Of course, they're framing it as a health issue -- we just want to squeeze as much time out of a person as we can before they drop over dead! As my (male) roommate said, if that were the case presidents would ONLY nominate women, since women have a longer life expectancy than men.

Even if the health was the point (and, may I reiterate, it's not) -- I don't mean to be a downer, but the life appointment cuts both ways. Remember that Souter was nominated to be a Scalia echo? And anyone who was thinking to him or herself "Yeah, Earl Warren, dude who said imprisoning all those Japanese Americans for no reason was constitutional! He will TOTALLY support discrimination in all forms!" was in for a nasty surprise. A life term can be a long, long time. I am NOT saying it would be good for justices to die at young ages, but I don't think that "This person will be on the court forever and ever and ever!" is nearly as important a consideration as their positions on constitutional issues.

But in any case, this is clearly not about solicitous concern for a justice who might be subject to health problems for being overweight, it's about shaming and scorning potential female nominees for their appearance. Coming right up: scorning and shaming potential female nominees for being single!

At May 6, 2009 at 7:06 PM , Blogger TommyD said...

Judicial nominees need to have tough skin, and I can tell you right now that whoever Obama nominates is going to face some outrageous smears. Assuming this nominee is a woman (and I'll make that assumption), these smears will come in sexist guise.

Obama voted against confirming Roberts and Alito, and Congressional Republicans have decided in general that "no" is the way to go. Expect Obama to nominate a woman of impeccable credentials and moderate but well-articulated judicial views. Expect her to be denounced as an extreme activist judge. Expect a whispering campaign to go on about her weight, health, marital status, sexual orientation (though I don't think an openly gay nominee will come until Obama's second or third go-round), hairstyle, clothes, alma mater, etc., etc. Expect all senators to deny (vehemently and with great umbrage) any involvement in said smear campaign.

Finally, expect the nominee (barring any nanny or tax problems) to be confirmed overwhelmingly. And by overwhelming, I mean all Democrats and at most five Republicans vote "yay." That's what political relevance means these days.

At May 8, 2009 at 9:42 AM , Blogger LSG said...

Right on every count, Tommy. Also, "empathy" is totally girly.

Some Republican senators have publicly said that they won't automatically vote against an openly gay or lesbian justice -- I'm not giving them a huge amount of credit for saying that they'll do their actual jobs and vote based on actual qualifications (can you imagine a senator announcing "Everyone should congratulate me on my tolerance, for I have decided I won't vote against confirming a qualified black man just because he's black, but will instead just call him an activist judge and suggest he is incapable of being objective on issues concerning race!"), but it's minimally encouraging that they felt that overt homophobia would be perceived negatively, right?

At May 12, 2009 at 8:11 AM , Blogger TommyD said...

As you said, LSG, only little girls and girly men feel empathy. Real men tort..., er, enhancedly interrogate people. See Dahlia's take on the empathy derangement:


At May 14, 2009 at 11:26 AM , Blogger LSG said...

Great article, Tommy -- I particularly like that the author refuses to play into the "EMPATHY IS SECRET CODE" script and instead looks at how Obama has defined empathy in the past.

Update on the nomination process: the AP has a list they believe are the front runners:

Thoughts, anyone?

Also, in my last comment I was holding on to the hope that Republican Senators like Sessions might at least pretend they weren't making judgments based on sexual orientation. That hope, sadly but totally unsurprisingly, turned out to be misplaced. Sigh.


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