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Op-ed: Why We Need More Women on SCOTUS

Op-ed: Why We Need More Women on SCOTUS


Is it any coincidence the three female Supreme Court justices all ruled for marriage equality? Not at all, says the head of the National LGBTQ Task Force.

As photographs of the Supreme Court and a group shot of its members were flashed across our screens last week in the run up to the historic ruling on marriage equality, many of us will have noted the fact that there are now three women members: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (appointed in 1993), Sonia Sotomayor (2009), and Elena Kagan (2010) -- on this august body.

Was the influence of the women justices important with regard to making history a week ago? Possibly, and here's why.

Women are socialized to be more empathetic than men. Some studies show that women may be more empathetic in certain instances (see the work of Maria Mestre and collaborators). Other research points to the possibility that those who experience discrimination firsthand may be more understanding of others who also experience discrimination (see the work of Christina Boyd and collaborators).

Perhaps Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, the first woman to reach the rank of three-star general in the U.S. Army, said it best when reflecting on leadership, "women are different and they see different things." The things that make us different are forged through the experience of facing discrimination as women -- whether we are lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or straight women. The things we see differently are made more vivid with the addition of all of the components of our identity.

Who can forget Sonia Sotomayor's comment when she was an appeals court judge: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn1t lived that life."

So if you are Latina, you may be more likely to see an issue through the lens of a person of color. If you are a white woman of faith, you may be more likely to understand that religious beliefs should not be used as an excuse to discriminate against others. If you are a bisexual black woman, you may be more likely to support a woman's right to make their own health decisions, rather than let her boss make that decision for her. If you are a transgender woman, you might be more likely to insist that the police exercise their powers fairly and accountably.

When women are part of the conversation, are part of the decisions ruling the country, it can create change -- from the economic engine of countries across the world to leadership on Capitol Hill; from strategic philanthropy to socially responsible business decisions; from organizing a rally for fair immigration reform to showing that black lives matter; from the streets to the U.S. Supreme Court bench.

Don't get me wrong, some of the men on the court understand the toll that discrimination can take -- not just on the individual, but on a democratic society -- but they all come to the court with the experiences and privileges associated with being men in this society.

So when Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court, he probably didn1t realize that he was helping to put our nation on a trajectory toward more freedom, justice, and equality for all. Justice O'Connor was a proud Republican, to be sure, but she came from an Arizona that at the time was a bastion of libertarianism with strong support for keeping the government out of our bedrooms, reproductive rights, and access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortions. In fact, she performed the first same-sex wedding held at the Supreme Court.

History is likely to record that the pace of freedom, justice, and equality in our land is directly linked to the increasing number of women on the Supreme Court. Ruth Bader Ginsburg says, "When I'm sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court], and I say 'When there are nine,' people are shocked. But there'd been nine men, and nobody's ever raised a question about that." Many will concur with the justice's line of thinking.

So let's hurry history, Mr. President and presidents to come: When there is a vacancy on the high court, please do the country a huge favor and nominate more women.

Rea-careyx100_0REA CAREY is the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force. Follow her @rea_carey.

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