By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Does the Supreme Court need more moms? Ann Gerhart asked the question in yesterday’s Washington Post, and the live Q&A that followed today online opened up a whole can of worms with readers.
In the Sunday opinion piece, among other things, Gerhart wrote that there is a lack of data examining the decisions of female judges who are mothers compared to those who are not mothers, to determine whether they come at legal questions differently. That’s a good thing, she says, because “examining mothers vs. non-mothers would open a whole new front in the mommy wars; the Ph.D.s who conduct research on gender difference are often women themselves, with little appetite to pick that fight.” She’s got that right--as evidenced by the fired-up reader comments in the online discussion today, which turned into a mommy war, big-time.
I’d rather not see this turn into a woman vs. woman thing. Why do we need to go there? Let’s just keep it to the fact that we need more women at the table. (One fight at a time, please, as we say in my house.)
Gerhart quotes Dina Refki, director of SUNY-Albany's Center for Women in Government and Civil Society, who says that in any organization, having women account for 33 percent of the group is the “threshold for change.” I’ve heard a similar number when it comes to corporate boards--that the ones with at least three women on them begin to see a change, as women reach a kind of critical mass in the organization. Elena Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court, whether she is a mom or not, gets women over the “change threshold” to a critical mass on the highest court. That’s what women should be focusing on.
Before Justice Souter retired last year, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg spoke with Joan Biskupic in USA Today, and called for the next justice to be a woman. Justice Ginsberg is a mom and notice she focused her remarks on needing a woman, and didn’t narrow it to a mother: "You know the line that Sandra and I keep repeating … that 'at the end of the day, a wise old man and a wise old woman reach the same judgment'? But there are perceptions that we have because we are women. It's a subtle influence. We can be sensitive to things that are said in draft opinions that (male justices) are not aware can be offensive."
"Yes, women bring a different life experience to the table," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg told Emily Bazelon in the New York Times Magazine shortly before the Sotomayor hearings. "All of our differences make the conference better. That I'm a woman, that's part of it, that I'm Jewish, that's part of it, that I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and I went to summer camp in the Adirondacks, all these things are part of me." In an ideal world, sure, let’s discuss whether some women might bring a different experience than other women to the court. But we’re far from an ideal world, and for now, just having more qualified women on the Supreme Court is good enough for me. Let’s leave the mommy wars out of it.