Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told an interviewer last weekend that she’d like to spend “at least” five more years on the bench before stepping down – that is, she’ll stay till she’s 90.
Wow! Good for her.
And good for us.
The debate has raged for decades now about whether there is something unique about having women serve as judges on our highest courts. As a woman who served for many years as a jurist on the Georgia Supreme Court, including as chief justice, I can answer that question with a resounding, Yes! Women like Justice Ginsburg have proven invaluable to the development of a fair and just jurisprudence in this country.
It was, after all, only after women started becoming judges that the judicial boys’ club began to erode. This was an enduring club infested with bigoted, sexist attitudes that, for the most part, protected the interests of men – and often at the expense of women.
But as female judges arrived on the scene and began to take more gender-sensitive positions than their male counterparts could manage, jurists like Justice Ginsburg played a significant role in not only exposing the hidden gender biases of our times but in doing something to make things better for women and everybody else.
Listen to her, for example, in the 1996 majority opinion in United States v. Virginia, in which the US sued the Virginia Military Academy over its gender-exclusive admissions policy – a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
She wrote: “Neither the goal of producing citizen-soldiers nor VMI’s implementing methodology is inherently unsuitable to women … (G)eneralizations about ‘the way women are,’ estimates of what is appropriate for most women, no longer justify denying opportunity to women whose talent and capacity place them outside the average description.”
Or her concurring opinion in 2016’s ruling on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down a Texas bill restricting access to abortion:
“When a State severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners … at great risk to their health and safety.”
Women’s lives are, for the most part, different from men’s; quite simply, they are more likely to experience discrimination and the heavy burdens of child and elder care. Experiencing the lived reality of womanhood in America can add a lot to a discussion on how a case should be decided.
Female judges, especially when they have had to balance their professional lives with spouses and children and other family concerns, like Justice Ginsburg did, also inspired generations of young women to become lawyers, as well as to see themselves as judges and other legal professionals. Plus, these women made courtrooms across the country more comfortable for women to appear in as lawyers, witnesses and jurors.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has not only had an impressive judicial record, but she has been a strong advocate for women’s rights and the human rights of all people. I couldn’t be happier – and we should all celebrate – that we will be able to take advantage of this wise woman’s experience and expertise for at least the next five years … and hopefully longer.