“The mere presence of a woman or a black on the Supreme Court changed the way colleagues saw some issues.”*

This Independence Day edition of SiveSiftings is dedicated to my parents, who met at Columbia Law School over 60 years ago, and, ever since,have shared a dedication to social justice and democratic values. Notably, my immigrant mother cherishes the Fourth of July in a way that, perhaps, only an immigrant can.

I also dedicate this posting to my Aunt Flora, the daughter of immigrant Jewish parents, in whose predominantly Nuyorican neighborhood I learned to appreciate the Nuyorican culture, so much more widely known since the President’s nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Indeed, this nomination of a New York daughter of an immigrant mother—to the highest court in the land, no less—feels particularly wonderful to this daughter of another.

Our upcoming Independence Day prompts me to share my thoughts on this historic event.For what is Independence Day, if not a day when every American woman and girl, wherever she was born, and in whatever American neighborhood she grew up, should be able to celebrate the Founders’ claim to equal access to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In my view, this guarantee of equality requires a Supreme Court with several woman members.

David Souter, the Justice Judge Sotomayor would replace, has spoken about the value of diverse perspectives to courts: “Anyone who has ever sat on a bench with other judges knows that judges are supposed to influence each other, and they do….One may see something the others did not see, and then they all take another look.” (“The Waves Minority Justices Always Make,”The New York Times, May 31,2009.)

I imagine that Justice Souter also knows that women judges see things male judges don’t see, just as minority judges see things white judges don’t see, according to his colleague, Justice Scalia.

Here’s Justice Scalia: “[Supreme Court Justice Thurgood] Marshall could be a persuasive force just by sitting there….He wouldn’t have to open his mouth to affect the nature of the conference [of Justices] and how seriously the conference would take matters of race.” (“The Waves Minority Justices Always Make,” The New York Times, May 31, 2009.)

In the back and forth regarding the President’s prospective selection of the next Supreme Court Justice, Stanford’s Deborah Rohde was quoted as saying: “People who care about women’s issues realize that not just any woman will do,” because “legal ideology is a stronger predictor than gender of judges’ decisions.” (“Court Opening Prompts Question About Whether Gender Matters,” The Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2009.)

But an important lesson of American history is that laws benefiting women and girls have only come in significant, if still not sufficient, numbers when the number of female public officials is significant.In fact, and as a matter-of-course, women political leaders act-on women’s needs, in ways that male leaders don’t, whether these women leaders hold executive, legislative, or judicial positions.

In the judicial context,Women’s eNews recently reported on a study that found: “….[F]emale [federal appeals court] judges were 10 percent more likely to rule in favor of the party bringing the discrimination claim….[The study found] that the presence of female judges can appreciably affect sex discrimination cases. [And] when men serve with women they are 15 percent more likely to rule in favor of a party alleging discrimination than when they sit with male judges only.” (Women’s eNews, June 25, 2009.)

In the federal legislative context, the concern of women legislators for women’s equality fostered the creation of the bi-partisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues and fosters its continuing success in advocating for policies that make life better for America’s women and girls.

Regularly, and across party lines, women Representatives advocate for laws that benefit women and girls. Federal laws preventing domestic violence and rape, ensuring equal pay and equal access to education, and providing safe and quality childcare are just some examples.

It may come-to-pass that soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor will write decisions with which some women will disagree, just as this President, who most Americans support, has made some unpopular decisions recently. However, the polls tell us, repeatedly, that most Americans embrace the needed and positive effect on race relations—the “American dilemma” since that very first Independence Day—the election of our first African-American President has had.

Similarly, I’m betting that most Americans will take comfort in the confirmation of our nation’s next female, and first Nuyorican, Supreme Court Justice, knowing that she will bring a(nother) needed woman’s perspective to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Our American Revolution continues. I thank the President for taking this step to make all our American neighborhoods better–for all our Independence Days to come.

Happy Fourth of July.


http://kalman.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/23/may-it-please-the-court/: Click on this link for some inspiration about the Supreme Court, women leaders, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, another daughter of immigrant America.

*The New York Times, “The Waves Minority Judges Always Make, “May 31, 2009

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