(HOST) Commentator Madeleine Kunin has been thinking about who should take the place of Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court.
(KUNIN) All sides are gearing up for battle, amassing their armies as if we were re-enacting the Civil War. The contest for who shall influence the President in his choice for one, two or possibly three vacancies on the Supreme Court has begun.
Never before have conservatives, ultra conservatives, moderates and liberals mounted a political campaign of this size to get their nominee on the court – a lifetime appointment that will determine many of the most critical aspects of American life for the next 40 years or more.
With all the debate about filibusters, consultation with the Senate, a compromise candidate or even a ticket of bundling a conserva- tive with an ultra conservative, if Renquist retires, few names of women have made it to the short list, or even the long list.
Are we going back to tokenism, where one woman in a club of nine should be enough?
When Sandra Day O’Connor was selected by President Reagan 24 years ago, there were few qualified women to choose from. She was a standout: an extraordinary academic record, political and judicial experience and a conservative.
Today, women populate the bench in record numbers at every level. If the President can’t find a sitting judge to his liking for the Supreme Court, he could appoint a woman outside the judicial system. It’s been done many times before.
Of the 108 judges who have served on the Supreme Court, only 48 have been sitting judges. Other backgrounds of Supreme Court Justices include practicing lawyers, former cabinet members, attorneys general, law professors and governors. Surely a qualified woman could be selected from these ranks, filled by hundreds of women who have excelled in their fields.
Historically, Presidents have paid attention to underrepresented constituencies and given them their seat. First the Jewish seat; the African American seat, occupied first by Thurgood Marshall and then Clarence Thomas; and, of course, the woman’s seat, filled in 1981 by Sandra Day O’Connor. President Clinton broke through tokenism when he appointed Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
Now that we are back to one woman on the court, the assumption has been made: we’ve done our duty. It’s time to move on to the first Hispanic. Yes, there should be a Hispanic justice on the court, but there also should be more than a token woman.
It’s obvious that women are more than a token constituency; they’re half the population, and as Sandra Day O’Connor so skillfully demonstrated, they see the world with a different nuance because of their life experiences.
While we’re fighting over a nominee who will satisfy a majority of constituencies to be confirmed, let us continue the fight for the equal representation of women on the court.
This is Madeleine May Kunin.
Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.