The Only Woman On The Supreme Court: Ruth Bader Ginsberg Tells All
A lot of people are happy that Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, but Emily Bazelon from Slate found someone in particular who is pretty psyched: the only woman presently sitting on the Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
Ever since Justice Sandra Day O’Connor retired three years ago, Ginsberg has represented the XX chromosomes on the most important bench in the country with her colleagues—eight men. She spoke with Bazelon for the New York Times‘ Sunday magazine about why the Supreme Court should have more women on it, why women might judge differently than men do, and her concerns about reproductive rights and the legality of abortion.
We collected nine bits of Ginsberg-ian wisdom, after the jump. [The New York Times Magazine]
- Being the only woman on the Supreme Court makes Ginsberg feel like she’s judging as a woman, not as a judge.
“It’s almost like being back in law school in 1956, when there were nine of us in a class of over 500, so that meant most sections had just two women, and you felt that every eye was on you. Every time you went to answer a question, you were answering for your entire sex. It may not have been true, but certainly you felt that way. You were different and the object of curiosity.”
- She thinks more women on the court mean more progressive judgments in support of things like sexual harassment.
“I think the presence of women on the bench made it possible for the courts to appreciate earlier than they might otherwise that sexual harassment belongs under Title VII [as a violation of civil rights law].”
- She’s getting tired of all those guys…
“I feel great that I don’t have to be the lone woman around this place…It just doesn’t look right in the year 2009.”
- …but people can still act foolishly even when there are two women on the Court.
“Once Justice O’Connor was questioning counsel at oral argument. I thought she was done, so I asked a question, and Sandra said: ‘Just a minute, I’m not finished.’ So I apologized to her and she said, ‘It’s O.K., Ruth.’ The guys do it to each other all the time, they step on each other’s questions. And then there appeared an item in USA Today, and the headline was something like ‘Rude Ruth Interrupts Sandra.'”
- The Justice is clear about her stance on abortion.
“The government has no business making that choice for a woman.”
- But Ginsberg is worried that restrictions on reproductive rights are disproportionately affecting poor women.
“Reproductive choice has to be straightened out. There will never be a woman of means without choice anymore. That just seems to me so obvious. The states that had changed their abortion laws before Roe [to make abortion legal] are not going to change back. So we have a policy that affects only poor women, and it can never be otherwise, and I don’t know why this hasn’t been said more often.”
- Sonia Sotomayor, a Latina, has been criticized for being a beneficiary of affirmative action. But it’s a little-known fact that Ginsberg herself benefited from affirmative action back once.
“I was the first tenured woman at Columbia. That was 1972, every law school was looking for its woman…William McGill, who was then the president of Columbia, was asked by a reporter: How is Columbia doing with its affirmative action? He said, It’s no mistake that the two most recent appointments to the law school are a woman and an African-American man…I was the woman. I never would have gotten that invitation from Columbia without the push from the Nixon administration.”
- The Justice gives good advice! You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.
“It will be welcomed much more if you have a gentle touch than if you are aggressive…or [had] a sense of humor
- But, alas, there’s only so much she can do!
“A court can’t tell [men], ‘You’ve got to do more than carry out the garbage.”