Thursday, May 13, 2010

Do President Obama's Supreme Court nominations discriminate against parents?

Via Julie Ponzi, Jules Crittenden wonders why Barack Obama can't nominate "soccer moms who went to a state school" to the Supreme Court:

I’d add that President Obama seems bent on packing the court with people who never had children, and would suggest that if you haven’t had your sleep disturbed for years on end; haven’t subjugated everything in your life to someone else’s interests … as opposed to subjugating everything to your career interests … and neve changed a diaper except, say, as a boutique experience; if you haven’t seen your hopes and dreams grow up, charge off in their own direction and start talking back to you; if you haven’t dealt with abuse of authority and human rights issues sometimes encountered in dealings with obtuse school officials, class bullies and town sports leagues; then there’s a high risk your understanding of life may be somewhat … academic.

It’s a humbling experience, parenthood. As well as an inspiring one that gives life meaning. It also, as a friend of mine once put it, makes you sane. Even while it drives you crazy. Put another way, it’s part of the maturation thing.

This sounds suspiciously like pining for a conservative version of "empathy" as a Supreme Court criteria (as Ponzi herself kind of suggests). But nevermind that. The real question here is: Why shouldn't childless Americans also be represented on the court?

Lots of people, after all, don't have kids. One estimate in 2006 suggested that 20 percent of women ages 40 to 44 or childless -- a pretty healthy proportion. But of the court's current membership, only Sonia Sotomayor is without children. (Antonin Scalia has nine kids. Statistically speaking, he more than makes up for Kagan and Sotomayor all by himself.) Bringing Kagan onto the court would mean that just more than 20 percent of justices are childless. So it all works out.

As it happens, I think it's fine to bat around these kinds of questions when looking at justices. I think the conservative approach to judicial philosophy -- were it practiced with any kind of rigor -- would reduce judging to a sterile intellectual exercise, where input A gives you output B. Lots of time, that is the case. But the Supreme Court decides the cases that are more complicated than that. And because law is made by, interpreted by and affects fallible human beings, I think it's naive, at best, to suggest that life experiences won't play a role in judging. So let's look at those life experiences! We'd think it weird if we had a courtful of childless justices, after all. It would also be weird if we had a court that only had parents on it.


KhabaLox said...

Along with the childless, where are the atheists and agnostics? There are more non-theists in this country than blacks, yet we are woefully underrepresented in every branch of government.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

This cheeses me off:

[parenthood] makes you sane. Even while it drives you crazy. Put another way, it’s part of the maturation thing.

I know this isn't the point of your post, but I don't like the original author's implications that those of us who choose not to have children are crazy and immature. It's just a choice, like any other, with its own consequences and trade-offs. Yeesh.

Word verification, no kidding, is "idecide"

Notorious Ph.D. said...

(And where did I miss all those diaper-changing boutiques?)