Women play an important part on the U.S. Supreme Court, but exactly how they do it is open to interpretation, said Dahlia Lithwick, a Supreme Court journalist for Slate magazine, at the 2010 Edith House Lecture.
Her lecture, “Wise Women? What Women Bring to the Bench and How to Talk About it Like Gentlemen,” examined three recent occurrences involving the Supreme Court that explored the nebulous role gender plays on the court. The biggest event was the appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the controversy it spawned.
“An entire career, a really interesting career, was boiled down to three words: wise Latina woman,” Lithwick said. “I just want to be clear that while I think it wasn’t the smartest word choice, if you look at the context. . . what she was saying is not that different from what I’m about to say, which is ‘Look at the data. Does it show that women judge differently than men?’
“And what the data shows, believe it or not, is that women judge differently,” she added. “And we can do with that what we want. We can explain it away or we can do what Sotomayor said and try to find out why women judge differently. But before we get into it, I just want to tell you that no two people were more different than Ruth Bader Ginsberg and [former justice] Sandra Day O’Connor. So it is a terrible mistake to say that all women judges do X, because they don’t. They don’t all approach cases the same way and they don’t think or write the same. That’s why I think it was bad to go back down to one woman on the court. When there were two you could see that gender actually makes very little difference on the court. It just shows that we have two very different women on the court.”
As a journalist who’s written for Elle, Newsweek, The New York Times, and CNN.com, Lithwick said that the media circus around justice confirmations may be ending.
“I think that the America in which we care deeply about a wise Latina woman is ending. I really believe that we’re not going to be talking about this for much longer,” she said. “This is a very impoverished dialogue about race and gender on the bench, but most of us aren’t having it.”