Friday, May 28, 2010

Civic Soapbox Friday: Supremely Delighted by Denise Zito

It feels like a new day now that a third woman has been nominated to the Supreme Court. And then it pains me to think that I need to be shocked, or honored, or excited to feel this way. It’s 2010 and here I sit, feeling all blessed and grateful that we might actually have three woman appointed to the Court.

When you only have nine options, it’s difficult to balance all the forces clamoring for equality: gender, race, ethnicity, religion, education and let’s get right to it: political viewpoint. Though Harvard and Yale seem to be the only law schools able to produce a Supreme Court Justice these days, and though it seems a bit odd that with the departure of Justice Stevens, we could have an exclusively Jewish and Catholic Court, the compelling force behind the selection remains the balance of liberal versus conservative bent of the proposed Justice.

In truth, Elena Kagan, the current Solicitor General, is probably an early replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is known to be in declining health. How cynical of me to think this way. But now, President Obama can have the notoriety of nominating two consecutive women, and for a time we’ll probably have three women on the Supreme Court.

And as a reason to protest her appointment, the other side will find plenty to argue. They’ll claim that Ms. Kagan doesn’t have enough judicial experience. No matter that until fairly recent times, Supreme Court justices came from many areas of public service, not just from those with previous experience as a judge in a lower court; the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, being the most recent example.

Over the next weeks leading up to the vote on Ms. Kagan’s nomination, we’re likely to hear lots of opinions on what makes an ideal Supreme Court Justice. What I would put forth is this: we need justices who understand the law, have inquiring minds to look at complex issues from many aspects and who can render opinions that hold to our constitution. And I would add, looking at issues from many aspects is enhanced when the makeup of the Court reflects our diverse democracy.

When I first heard the news of Kagan’s nomination, I tried to picture what it would be like to have four or five women in that role. Would Supreme Court decisions be different? We’re learning that women and minority senators and representatives don’t vote in lock-step on any issue. But slowly, slowly our nation has evolved and been nudged along by having a truly more representative democracy in all branches of government. Having more women and minorities at the decision making table has brought points of view that had not previously been given voice.

The years since the nomination of Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme, and then Sandra Day O’Conner, the first woman, to the present are like a time-lapse photograph turning our highest court into a multi-dimensional decision making body, more closely resembling our struggling, raucous democracy.

So close your eyes for a moment and picture a Supreme Court not dominated by aged white guys, but having women, men, African Americans, now a Latina and maybe some day an Asian member.

I like it.

                                          -- Denise Zito lives in Free Union

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