Ruth Bader Ginsberg has worn it well....will Judge Sonia Sotomayor be the next to wear it?
As we begin the confirmation hearings that stand between Sotomayor and a seat near Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the high bench, it's sad to think that it took so long for a women to have this opportunity. After 16 years on the court — the last three, since the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, as the only woman working alongside eight men — Ginsburg has a unique perspective on what’s at stake in Sotomayor’s nomination.
The Woman and the Times blog, notes that the NYTimes Magazine interview with US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (”The Place of Women on the Court” by Emily Bazelon). has an interesting starting question and answer: (some of the follow up questions are great, too!)
Q: At your confirmation hearings in 1993, you talked about how you hoped to see three or four women on the court. How do you feel about how long it has taken to see simply one more woman nominated?
JUSTICE GINSBURG: My prediction was right for the Supreme Court of Canada. They have Beverley McLachlin as the chief justice, and they have at least three other women. The attrition rate is slow on this court.
Q: Now that Judge Sotomayor has been nominated, how do you feel about that?
JUSTICE GINSBURG:I feel great that I don’t have to be the lone woman around this place.
Q: What has that been like?
JUSTICE GINSBURG: It’s almost like being back in law school in 1956, when there were 9 of us in a class of over 500, so that meant most sections had just 2 women, and you felt that every eye was on you. Every time you went to answer a question, you were answering for your entire sex. It may not have been true, but certainly you felt that way. You were different and the object of curiosity.
Q: Did you feel that this time around from your male colleagues?
JUSTICE GINSBURG: My basic concern about being all alone was the public got the wrong perception of the court. It just doesn’t look right in the year 2009.
Q: Why on a deeper level does it matter? It’s not just the symbolism, right?
JUSTICE GINSBURG:It matters for women to be there at the conference table to be doing everything that the court does. I hope that these hearings for Sonia will be as civil as mine were and Steve Breyer’s were. Ours were unusual in that respect.
Q: You are said to have very warm relationships with your colleagues. And so I was surprised to read a comment you made in an interview in May with Joan Biskupic of USA Today. You said that when you were a young lawyer, your voice was often ignored, and then a male colleague would repeat a point you’d made, and other people would be alert to it. And then you said this still happens now at conference.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: Not often. It was a routine thing [in the past] that I would say something and it would just pass, and then somebody else would say almost the same thing and people noticed. I think the idea in the 1950s and ’60s was that if it was a woman’s voice, you could tune out, because she wasn’t going to say anything significant. There’s much less of that.But it still exists, and it’s not a special experience that I’ve had. I’ve talked to other women in high places, and they've had the same experience.
Q: I wonder if that would change if there were more women who were part of the mix on the court?
JUSTICE GINSBURG: I think it undoubtedly would. You can imagine in Canada, where McLachlin is the chief, I think they must have a different way of hearing a woman’s voice if she is the leader.
I particularly enjoyed reading the next question posed to Ginsberg, one that speaks to the heart of work/life balance.
Q: In the 1980s, you wrote about how while the sphere for women has widened to include more work, men haven’t taken on as much domestic responsibility. Do you think that things are beginning to change?
JUSTICE GINSBURG: That’s going to take time, changing that kind of culture. But looking at my own family, my daughter Jane teaches at Columbia, she travels all over the world, and she has the most outstanding supportive husband who certainly carries his fair share of the load. Although their division of labor is different than mine and my husband’s, because my daughter is a super cook.
What do you think about the future for women on the U.S. Supreme Court? Will we see more and will it make a difference?