It looks like we need another refresher on what to look for in a potential Supreme Court justice. At the Daily Beast, Peter Beinart has stumbled upon the idea that what Barack Obama really needs to do is nominate a mother:
First, because female justices, on average, will be more sensitive to the problems women face. Since they will have likely encountered gender bias themselves, they will be more likely to support government action to remedy it. And that firsthand experience of injustice may also sensitize them to the plight of other groups that have historically experienced discrimination. These are crude generalizations, of course, but they have a basis in fact. Just look at the women in Congress, who are far more likely to be pro-choice—and to lean left more broadly—than are the men.
As we’ve discussed before, this reason is bogus—such identity politics thinking feeds into faction and runs counter to the reality that if a judgment is right, it is right regardless of who’s doing the judging, and men and women alike should adopt it. Indeed, in order to do their jobs properly, judges of all public services must bring as little of themselves — experience, emotion, interest, politics — to the table, and rule based solely on what the law says.
So Beinart is, unsurprisingly, all wet when it comes to sound constitutionalism. The second reason, however, is a little more interesting:
It’s not just that they may alleviate gender injustice through their rulings; they may alleviate it through their example as well. Just as Barack Obama empowers African-American kids to believe that there are no limits to what they can achieve, female Supreme Court justices send the same message to young women. As anyone who has ever watched their daughter eye a Barbie Doll can attest, role models matter.
And that’s why it’s important not just to have lots of women in positions of political power, but to have lots of women with kids. It’s important because otherwise, the message you’re sending young women is that they can achieve professionally, or they can have a family, but they can’t do both.
Giving American youth positive role models is a valid concern, and all other things being equal, a good jurist who can also set a positive example for young girls would be great. But all other things are rarely equal, and admirable biographies should not be sought at the expense of legal expertise and solid judicial philosophy. For one thing, inspiring the youth is not the reason we have a judicial branch; upholding the Constitution is. For another thing, putting too much value on identity can have the opposite of the intended effect. As NewsReal commenter HeatherRadish explained:
I know it doesn’t matter to gender bean-counters, but it is worse to have lousy women in office than to have no women in office at all. As an example, Nancy Pelosi’s breathtaking ignorance and bullying make it harder for competent women to be taken seriously by anyone who doesn’t already believe that what’s between a representative’s legs is more important than what is between her ears.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few words about the implication that people are only going to be happy (or at least are most likely to be happy) if they have both a family and a career. Balancing both is becoming increasingly necessary for mothers in lower- and middle-class families (especially if politicians keep finding new excuses to help themselves to the contents of our wallets), but modern society has a dangerous tendency to look down upon full-time parenthood as less meaningful than a “real” (i.e., paid) job. But in reality, parenthood — the moral and social development of the next generation of citizens — is one of society’s most vital duties, and it deserves to be recognized as a worthy and fulfilling life’s calling in its own right.
Great judges are important. Great mothers are important, too. It’s inspiring to see women come along who can successfully fulfill both roles, but we need to keep in mind that different jobs require different qualities, and trying to be all things to all people simultaneously can backfire, leading to the detriment of family and country.