Tuesday, July 14, 2009

New York Times Interview With Ruth Bader Ginsburg

As we await the probable(?) confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court, The New York Times recently posted an interview of lone female justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg and former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor are two women in the legal profession who I have enormous respect for.

Although women comprise about half of law school classrooms these days, they were each one of a handful of women in their respective classes. Despite graduating 3rd in her class at one of the nation's top law schools (Stanford), no law firm in California offered O'Connor a job, "although one firm did offer her the position as a legal secretary." Even today, in these post-feminist (ha ha) times, only 2 out of 100 women have ever served on our nation's highest court. Regardless of whether women and men decide cases differently, I think Ginsburg says it best when she notes that the gender disparity on the court "just doesn’t look right in the year 2009."

Anyway, within the Ginsburg interview she discusses the criticism that Sotomayor is "bullying" and notes that current male Justices Scalia and Breyer are aggressive questioners themselves and that often goes unremarked. Women, and this holds true for women in many professions, are often caught in an unwinnable bind. When women are assertive they are labeled "bitchy," but if they are passive they are considered not "tough enough" for a particular job. Oftentimes, such stereotypical attitudes are held by those who consciously (or maybe even less consciously) subscribe to the idea that a "lady" has a natural delicacy that she should not transcend, and that it is this delicacy that makes her unsuitable to work in the public arena.

To end, check out the interview if you're interested. One of my favorite parts was this:

Q: Do you think if there were more women on the court with you that other dynamics would change?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: I think back to the days when — I don’t know who it was — when I think Truman suggested the possibility of a woman as a justice. Someone said we have these conferences and men are talking to men and sometimes we loosen our ties, sometimes even take off our shoes. The notion was that they would be inhibited from doing that if women were around. I don’t know how many times I’ve kicked off my shoes. Including the time some reporter said something like, it took me a long time to get up from the bench. They worried, was I frail? To be truthful I had kicked off my shoes, and I couldn’t find my right shoe; it traveled way underneath.

It's always nice to know that those sitting in the ivory tower retain their sense of humor.

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