Politics & Policy

Girl Crazy

It's more than cool that John Roberts is a man.

The knee-jerk reaction some critics have had to John Roberts being nominated as the president’s first Supreme Court pick reeks of foolishness. This is their thinking: A woman is retiring, and a woman must replace her. And so they just can’t get that into a “John.”

Even retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s first public reaction was: “He’s good in every way, except he’s not a woman.”

Perhaps President Bush should have nominated one of his twin daughters to the Supreme Court instead. Think that’s silly? Then read the letter Sen. Ken Salazar (D., Colo.), sent to President Bush the morning after the Roberts announcement:

The freshman senator wrote, “You and I both have two daughters. The profound message we should be giving to them is that their gender creates no limitations for them to live up to their God-given potential. Yet, I fear that with the loss of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor from the United States Supreme Court, we are sending the opposite message.”

However, Salazar conceded that “the fact you have not selected a distinguished woman in the mold of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is not a reason for disqualification.” How grandiose of you, senator.

I can hear John Roberts now, upon confirmation: Thank you, senators, for looking beyond my obvious liability–my gender. You took a chance on me, confirming me despite the irrevocable damage I may do to the girls of our nation, who, like my own daughter, dream, as they play with their Justice Barbies, that one day some open-minded president will nominate them instead of some slice of Wonder Bread–well, me–to the Supreme Court. I’m so sorry I am a man, but I will try my very best not to be too much of a Neanderthal in robes.

Salazar’s letter was not an isolated incident in Congress. When rumors were flying that Chief Justice Rehnquist might free a second seat on the court, four women senators (two Republicans, two Democrats) wrote to Justice O’Connor pleading with her to reconsider walking away from the Court. They wanted her to be named the first woman chief justice. Why? Because they don’t think there’s another woman out there who someday might fill the slot? Because a woman will never be considered outside of their ridiculous suggestion?

We really aren’t this silly, are we? Bush defied conventional wisdom–on the Left and Right–when he picked a guy to fill the O’Connor seat. Good for him.

Am I a self-loathing woman? No, just looking for a qualified judge chosen not because of the rules of an identity-politics game, but because he’s (or she’s) the qualified American who the president wants, period.

Novel, I know. Devoid of the kind of overwrought emotive nonsense that has surrounded the Justice O’Connor retirement. One Supreme Court writer (Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick) wrote just before the big O’Connor announcement: “What we forget–what I forget–is that O’Connor single-handedly blew open more doors for young women than almost any human being alive on this planet. What we forget is that it’s possible to be baffled by her ideology, worried by her power at the center of the high court, anxious about many of her views, and still feel the impulse to hug her.”

I think I’ll skip the girl-power hugs and stick to a nominee’s judicial qualifications.

A Chicago Tribune headline read “Women express disappointment that court will have only 1 female.” No offense to Justice O’Connor and others, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you stood on a street corner (preferably not across from the Supreme Court), randomly asked women walking by who the other female Supreme Court justice is, and got the wrong response. Maybe Laura Bush? Or Hillary Clinton? She’s a judge, right? If you did back in June–before O’Connor made news–asking for the name of any woman on the Supreme Court, I don’t think you would have gotten too many right answers.

Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O’Connor as the first female justice in July 1981. That was an important historic milestone (look, gals, no glass ceiling!). So, by now–you would think–we would all be capable of taking a collective deep breath, look at John Roberts on his merits, then look at the next nominee on his–or her–merits, and stop insulting American women. There’ll be another woman on the Supreme Court, but hopefully it won’t be just–or even mostly–because she’s a woman. It will be because she’s the qualified judge the president wanted to fill the important slot.

President Bush set a healthy precedent with Justice Roberts–even if the sisterhood refuses to acknowledge it.

(c) 2005, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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