Monday, May 10, 2010

My "problem" with Kagan's Supreme Court nomination

Kagan finally gains the approval of social media commentators and the masses with her makeover

Today, President Barack Obama nominated Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Solicitor General Kagan, if confirmed, will replace Justice John Paul Stevens.

Kagan is now poised to become the Supreme Court's third female Justice of its nine member body. As women are half this country's population, it's about time.

I had concerns that Obama would choose a male to fill the spot after previously nominating Justice Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter. With Sotomayor's nomination, Obama restored the court to its (in the past few decades) two-women quota (or, in President George Bush's case, one woman), which seemed to fulfill the token requirement of having some women on the bench.

Obama broke the mold with Sotomayor, nominating the woman who would become the first ever Latino Justice, and does so again with Kagan's nomination which marks the first time three women would sit on the Supreme Court.

In Kagan, Obama found a brilliant woman with an impressive resume. She earned her undergraduate degree from Princeton and her law degree from Harvard where she later served as dean of the law school. Before becoming dean, she clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall and taught at the University of Chicago Law School. She also served as associate White House counsel under President Clinton.

There is some concern that her lack of judicial experience may be an issue. She is the first nominee to the Supreme Court in nearly 40 years who has not previously served as a Federal Circuit Court judge.

Republican Senator, Orin Hatch, however, had insight into the relevance this possible point of contention should have, minimizing it. He stated, "Judicial qualifications go beyond legal experience; any Supreme Court nominee should have an impressive resume. The more important qualification is judicial philosophy and a nominee's understanding of the power and proper role of a Justice in our system of government."

She has come under fire from the right for her staunch opposition to the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, and for arguing against the recent Supreme Court decision overturning campaign finance reform which limited corporate and union spending in federal elections.

Some on the left have criticized her for not opposing broad executive power as it pertains to anti-terrorism activities. Some liberals have also jabbed at her for her activities as dean at Harvard where she mollified tensions over accusations of a perceived liberal tilt to the faculty and curriculum by pushing for the appointment of conservative professors.

If you are nominated for the Supreme Court and both sides of the aisle don't take issue with your positions from time-to-time, chances are that you aren't going to be a good, unbiased judge who looks at the facts, Constitution, and law as they are, but instead for what you want them to be.

As both liberals and conservatives point to a few issues with which they disagree with her, they hail her intelligence. Hatch, a member of the Judiciary Committee, called Kagan "a brilliant woman" and told her she has done "done a terrific job up there at Harvard."

In a press conference this morning, Obama said of Kagan, "Elena is respected and admired not just for her intellect and record of achievement, but also for her temperament, her openness to a broad array of viewpoints, her habit — to borrow a phrase from Justice [John Paul] Stevens — of understanding before disagreeing, her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus builder". He went on, "While we can't presume to replace Justice Stevens' wisdom or experience, I have selected a nominee who I believe embodies that same excellence, independence, integrity and passion for the law, and who can ultimately provide that same kind of leadership on the court."

When members on both sides of the political aisle acknowledge your aptitude but disagree with at least a few of your stances on the issues, that forms part of a foundation that makes for a great Supreme Court Justice. It shows the Justice thinks well and hard and thinks for him or herself.

I couldn't be more pleased with the nomination of Kagan. My problem, however, is the completely irrelevant issues that have nothing to do with her qualification that are getting so much attention.

Even if mainstream media has been (for the most part) too intelligent and high-minded to give much credence or time to these wasteful and insulting discussions, social media outlets including facebook, twitter, and various other social networking sites, on which many actually rely for their news and information, are rampant with criticism of her appearance and sexuality.

I can't decide if it's more important that a female nominated to the Supreme Court have a husband and children and be straight, or that she be attractive. Oh sexism, so good to know you are alive and well. I had missed you since Hillary Clinton's campaign for president where her sexuality and attractiveness were often subjected to constant scrutiny

The sad truth about society today is that even women nominated for the Supreme Court of the United States are still open targets to be made fun of for their looks. Men, however? Free pass. I suppose, if asked in the confirmation hearing why she isn't hotter, her excuse would have to be, "Sorry I didn't have time to do my makeup this morning and go to the gym every day. I was a little busy being dean of Harvard Law School, arguing before the Supreme Court, and accomplishing amazing things with my career to get nominated for the most important and influential legal job in the world."

Priorities, Kagan. Priorities.

Another rule about being a less-than-very-attractive, single, middle-aged woman, who is significantly accomplished in her career is that she also, surely, must be gay. ...Right? I mean the short hair... and the being single... and the astonishing achievements in her career... how gay is that? Seriously.

Maybe by making leaps and bounds in her career, she didn't have time for the distraction of kids and family. Maybe her career success actually made her less desirable to men (which is a whole separate can of worms entirely---on which I'll avoid a rant at this point in time). Or maybe, just maybe, she is gay. And even if she were, would it matter? I am of the opinion that it would not, but I cannot discern whether the jumble of uninformed, barely intelligible opinions offered by social media commentators discussing the issue think it would matter as a Justice or not. Their analysis simply leads to the conclusion that she is unattractive and gay as well as to a general disapproval or at least mockery of this, and not to a statement as to what that has to do with anything.

My problem with Kagan's Supreme Court nomination has nothing to do with Kagan. My problem with the nomination is the shallow, mindless masses ruminating on things that have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with her qualifications, such as her appearance / level of attractiveness and what that says about her as a person, such as her sexuality.

On the whole, I am supportive of the mass social media invasion that gives us up-to-the-nano-second news and lets everyone from bloggers, to tweeters, to facebook-status-updaters, to anonymous posters on message boards feel like the next Katie Couric, Brian Williams, Diane Sawyer, or Chris Wallace. However, when we find that more of us have something to say about what a female Supreme Court nominee looks like than what she has accomplished or if she is qualified, perhaps it is time to shut your yappers and step away from the keyboard.

Their comments would, perhaps, be relevant if, instead of being the foremost judicial body in the world with the task of interpreting our laws and constitution, the Supreme Court were a frat boy shotgunning beers and smashing the empty cans off his head while wearing a "No fat chicks" t-shirt and ending every sentence in "no homo."

So future male nominees, continue looking like someone straight out of Grumpy Old Men, Bucket List, or a zombie horror film. Your career achievements, academic prowess, and legal success will pave the way for you, as it should. Future female nominees, start looking like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde and get yourself a husband, two kids, a dog, and a lovely house with a white picket fence in the 'burbs (you know, in addition to all that "achievement" nonsense) if you want to be taken seriously by the uninformed masses.

It is disheartening and sad to see women, constantly, even the most intelligent and accomplished among us, be reduced by many to how hot they are and the obviously empirical ramifications that has on their sexuality.

I, for one, am proud to be a commentator who tosses my hat into the ring of opinions on Kagan on the basis of something other than her looks.

1 comment:

  1. Sarah, I must say... you have not changed. Your voice has gotten stronger! This is probably my favorite, "Or maybe, just maybe, she is gay. And even if she were, would it matter? I am of the opinion that it would not, but I cannot discern whether the jumble of uninformed, barely intelligible opinions offered by social media commentators discussing the issue think it would matter as a Justice or not." You've made my day!

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