Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation is a compilation of stories about women’s representation in politics, on boards, in sports and entertainment, in judicial offices and in the private sector in the U.S. and around the world—with a little gardening and goodwill mixed in for refreshment!
Ketanji Brown Jackson Becomes First Black Woman on the Supreme Court
Dear women’s representation advocates,
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in on Thursday, June 30, becoming the first Black woman to serve on the highest court in the land. As this story in The New York Times notes, Jackson is the 116th justice to serve on the Court, but only the sixth woman to do so:
Ketanji Brown Jackson took the judicial oath just after noon on Thursday, becoming the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
Justice Jackson, 51, was confirmed in April, when the Senate voted 53 to 47 on her nomination. She is replacing Justice Stephen G. Breyer, 83, who stepped down with the conclusion of the court’s current term.
Justice Jackson took both a constitutional oath, administered by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and a judicial oath, administered by Justice Breyer, making her the nation’s 116th justice and sixth woman to serve on the nation’s highest court. The brief swearing-in ceremony took place in the West Conference Room at the Supreme Court, before a small gathering of Judge Jackson’s family, including her two daughters. Her husband, Dr. Patrick G. Jackson, held the two Bibles on which she swore: a family Bible and a King James Version that is the property of the court.
“Against All Odds, She Became a Lawyer”
Kaycie Goral, digital communications manager at RepresentWomen, had a terrific piece in Ms. that explores the numbers of women and people of color serving in judicial offices in the United States and the barriers they face:
Just 65 out of the 175 active judges on the federal circuit courts are female, and just 37 percent of state Supreme Court seats. Only 14 states have gender-balanced Supreme Courts. Out of the 115 justices that have served on the highest court of the United States, just six were women—four of whom are currently on the bench, including Jackson.
This ratio worsens for women of color, who comprise less than 10 percent of federal district and circuit court judges. In 22 states, no justices publicly identify as a person of color, including in 11 states where people of color make up at least 20 percent of the population.
Across all-state high courts, just 17 percent of justices are Black, Latino, Asian American or Native American. In 2021 there were no Black justices in about 28 states; no Latino justices in 40 states; no Asian American justices in 44 states; and no Native American justices in 47 states.
Additionally, over one-third (about 37 percent) of sitting state Supreme Court justices are former prosecutors, while only 7 percent are former public defenders.
In the wake of recent events, this is an issue. A more diverse judicial branch equates to a more representative government. Different perspectives often lead to diverse readings and implications of rulings, more in line with the court of public opinion. For example, the study “Untangling the Causal Effects of Sex on Judging,” found that male federal appellate court judges are less likely to rule against plaintiffs bringing claims of sex discrimination if a female judge is on the panel. Who we see representing us behind the bench matters just as much as in front of it—in Congress, state houses and the White House.
In the face of recent events regarding the overturning of Roe v. Wade, we must change the face of justice in America through intentional actions and data-backed best practices to elect and appoint more women to judicial offices. Greater representation of all women in the judiciary won’t happen through mentorship alone; we need to advance rules changes that ensure more women are considered and selected for these offices.
Women Leaders Respond to Dobbs Ruling
Much has been written about the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs decision, but three articles in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times offer interesting perspectives:
Kathryn Kolbert writes:
“I’m struck that while the majority opinion repeatedly gives great weight to the importance of protecting fetal life, it fails to discuss the effect of its ruling on women’s lives and health. The court cavalierly dismisses the fact that bans on abortion will force women to travel hundreds of miles to receive care, risk criminal prosecution for seeking abortion medication on the gray or black market, and will disadvantage those women with the least resources: women of color, poor women, young women, disabled women. The majority opinion brushes off the import of these effects by arguing that the state legislative process will protect women’s interests, because they can vote or drop their babies on the doorsteps of fire stations.
Those of us who believe that the rights of women to make decisions about their lives ought to be constitutionally protected need to work to elect politicians who agree with us.
Linda Greenhouse writes:
“Forty-nine years is a long time, but professional lives, including mine, are long as well. I was a freshly minted journalist at The Times in 1969 when I received an assignment to write about the growing controversy over abortion. I immersed myself in the issue, interviewing and learning from lawyers on both sides of the debate.
On Jan. 25, 1970, The New York Times Magazine published my article under the headline “Constitutional Question: Is There a Right to Abortion?” It was, I believe, the first article in a general-interest publication to survey the nascent constitutional arguments, and it has been quite widely reprinted. When I finished reading Friday’s decision in preparation for writing this essay, I realized that I will have chronicled this profound issue across its entire arc, a perspective I never could have anticipated.
Except, of course, that the story isn’t over. Although Justice Brett Kavanaugh proclaimed with evident relief in his concurring opinion that the court was now bowing out of the picture and “will no longer decide how to evaluate the interests of the pregnant woman and the interests in protecting fetal life throughout pregnancy,” that is not likely to be the case.
Those pesky women will keep coming up with problems: What about pregnancy-related medical issues short of imminent death? Rape? Incest? Fetuses doomed to die in the womb or shortly after birth? Will young teens be forced to bear children? Will women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of a serious fetal anomaly be forced to bring a child into the world whom they can’t care for adequately and in whom the state has little postnatal interest? What happens when states start prosecuting not only doctors but women?
Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.) write:
In order to fix the damage Republicans have done to our system in their efforts to control women’s lives, we need broad democracy reform: changing the composition of the courts, reforming Senate rules like the filibuster, and even fixing the outdated Electoral College that allowed presidential candidates who lost the popular vote to take office and nominate five of the justices who agreed to end the right to an abortion.
We can’t undo in five months the damage it took Republicans five decades to accomplish, but we can immediately start repairing our democracy. The public is overwhelmingly on our side. A vast majority of Americans oppose the decision the Supreme Court just made. Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. And more Americans describe themselves as pro-choice today than at any other point in the last 25 years…
Simply put: We must restore our democracy so that a radical minority can no longer drown out the will of the people. This will be a long, hard fight, and the path to victory is not yet certain. But it’s a righteous fight that we must win — no matter how long it takes. The two of us lived in an America without Roe, and we are not going back. Not now. Not ever.
The Failure of the Feminist Industrial Complex
Charlotte Alter’s piece in TIME on our collective failure to protect reproductive rights is one of the most accurate critiques of the modern American feminist movement that I have read. Women’s rights advocates in countries ranked above the United States in women’s representation have demanded gender quotas, proportional voting systems, and ministries devoted to protecting and advancing women’s equality, all of which have led to higher numbers of women in elected office and better policy outcomes for women.
Alter explores the “soft power of cultural representation” that is no match for strategies that deliver women real power:
How could a cornerstone of American women’s rights crumble at a moment of otherwise expansive economic, cultural, and social empowerment?
The fall of Roe exposes a crack in the foundation of mainstream liberal feminism that has dominated the past decade. This version of feminism—is it the fourth wave?—has been preoccupied with individual achievements, feel-good symbolism, and cultural representation. It has, in turn, paid too little attention to the thorny mechanics of federal courts and state legislative races. Many fourth wavers presumed that reproductive rights were basically secure, and that therefore the remaining obstacles for women were not legal or political but cultural and emotional. Every time a woman won an Oscar, or released a hit album, or got a big promotion, the refrain was the same: representation matters!
Of course it matters. Of course it should be cheered. But somewhere along the way, many in the mainstream feminist movement convinced themselves that the soft power of cultural representation seemed as important as the hard power of votes and seats. Empowerment became not a means to an end, but the end in itself. Many feminists—particularly rich, white, well-educated ones—assumed that changing hearts and minds was the difficult part. In a functioning democracy, winning seats and writing laws would inevitably follow.
But that’s not how our democracy works. Nearly 60% of Americans did not want to see Roe overturned, including more than 30% of Republicans. The number of Americans who identify as “pro-choice” reached a record high in the weeks after a leaked draft opinion showed the Supreme Court was poised to upend a half century of constitutional precedent. And yet, the course of American history doesn’t always follow public opinion. Just ask the two recent Republican Presidents who lost the popular vote, yet appointed four Supreme Court Justices who voted to overturn Roe.
Roe fell in large part because anti-abortion activists and policymakers better understood how power truly works in this country…
Lack of Neckties Trumps Lack of Women at G7
President Biden and other G7 leaders gather for a group photo in Germany. pic.twitter.com/wY66uH86hM— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 27, 2022
The G7 countries met this week for a summit in the mountains of Germany and, while I have not done a full literature review, I saw more stories like this about the lack of neckties than I did stories about the lack of women leaders.
Women are underrepresented in all of the countries that are part of the G7, but the United States lags behind most allies due in part to the aforementioned focus on women’s empowerment in lieu of systemic strategies to advance women’s power. Here is a look at the percentages of women in office in G7 nations:
The U.S. Democracy Is in Crisis. Let’s Translate Panic Into Positive Action
The Declaration of Independence was not just a founding document but one that has continued to influence Americans’ relations with government ever since. The famous opening section about “self-evident” truths – “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – was a truly revolutionary statement that planted the seeds for the ongoing struggle for individual rights.
Many Americans are worried that we’re in danger of losing that struggle. Serious-minded people are sounding the alarm that democracy is truly in peril, that the country’s at risk of slipping into authoritarianism. Short of that, many citizens are increasingly concerned our political institutions are failing to reflect most people’s preferences. “Are we doing a good job of measuring the consent of the governed, upon which governments should rest?” asks Rob Richie, president and CEO of FairVote, which promotes ranked-choice voting and other electoral reforms.
Richie said that today’s levels of polarization is creating a crisis – but one that in turn offers opportunities for ingenuity. Like other advocates, he’s hopeful that the appetite for change can be translated into positive action. Maybe not a revolution, but a real rethinking about how we choose our leaders and lend them our power.
I enjoyed talking with a lot of interesting women at the League of Women Voters conference in Denver this last week—so great to build new relationships and partnerships for the work ahead.
Remember to check out the team’s feminist must-reads—women in the judiciary edition:
Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.