Thursday, October 06, 2005

Miers: The Gender Card

Besides faith, the other big and obvious issue is gender. One would have to be a Martian not to know that Miers has been selected for the Supreme Court seat because she's a she (and even the smarter Martians probably have it figured out by now). Even many of the conservatives who have been sharply critical of the pick because of Miers's lack of both conservative and intellectual credentials have stressed that there are many better-qualified women (see examples here, here and here). The bottom line, of course, is that after filling the vacancy left by Sandra Day O'Connor with John Roberts, Bush was under substantial pressure to nominate another woman to Rehnquist's now-vacant seat.

The pro-Miers Independent Women's Forum is perhaps alone in arguing that Miers did not a "woman's seat" on the high court. Here's the IWF's reasoning:

In originally nominating John Roberts to replace Justice O'Connor, the President laid to rest the notion that any one sex or ethnic group owns a particular seat on the Court. Having established that principle last summer, and having elevated John Roberts to be chief justice, the President was free to make this selection free from concerns of gender politics.

But that's rather peculiar logic. Just because Bush didn't officially make O'Connor's seat a "woman's seat" (decorated with pink frills and bows, perhaps?) doesn't change the fact that if Miers is confirmed, the gender composition of the Court will be the same as it was before. If anything, the Roberts nomination made the concerns of gender politics more pressing.

So this was clearly an affirmative action pick, and one might argue that it illustrates the worst of affirmative action: identity over qualifications. (In this case, perhaps, an identity twofer: a woman and an evangelical.) In this case, though, I'm not so sure that applies. While Miers's gender clearly mattered, it is quite true that there were other, well-qualified conservative women to choose from. The deciding factor was personal loyalty, otherwise known as cronyism -- just as it would have been with Bush's other frequently mentioned possible choice, Alberto Gonzalez.

I'm not sure as yet what I think of the gender politics of the Miers nomination. I don't believe in quotas and I don't believe that women bring some uniquely female perspective to jurisprudence, but I'd be lying if I said that I'm not in the least glad that the number of women on the Supreme Court won't be dropping to one. To some extent, I share Kate O'Beirne's disappointment:

When John Roberts was nominated his credentials and his knowable judicial philosophy spoke for themselves. In making the case for Harriet Miers, President Bush says that he's certain she will vote on the Court the way he'd want her to. This is striking a blow for women's achievement?

Good point. On the other hand, men with modest credentials have been appointed to the Supreme Court before, and maybe it's a sign that women have arrived when a mediocre woman in public life has as much of a chance at advancement as a mediocre man.

Curiously, or perhaps not, the nastiest gender-based swipe at Miers so far has come from a liberal feminist, Times Select prisoner Maureen Dowd. MoDo writes:

I hope President Bush doesn't have any more office wives tucked away in the White House.

There are only so many supremely powerful jobs to give to women who are not qualified to get them.

The West Wing is a parallel universe to TV's Wisteria Lane: instead of self-indulgent desperate housewives wary of sexy nannies, there are self-sacrificing, buttoned-up nannies serving as adoring work wives, catering to W.'s every political, legal and ego-affirming need.

So Bush's male friends are just cronies, but his female friends are "self-sacrificing, buttoned-up nannies" and "adoring work wives." Sexism, anyone?


PG said...

Though I haven't read the Dowd article, I wonder at her use of the word "self sacrificing." Thinking of the women around Bush: Karen Hughes, who ditched him for a few years to go home and spend time with her family; Miers, whose loyalty is being rewarded with a SCOTUS seat; Rice, whose loyalty was rewarded with the Secretary of State position.

In fact, the only person in Bush's orbit who does seem to have sacrificed himself in some respect is the first Sec. of State, Colin Powell. Powell testified inaccurately regarding Iraq before the UN and thus lost his popularity among moderates and liberals. His reward was to be shuffled out the door after the 2004 election. Don't cry for Harriet, cry for Colin!

Anonymous said...

Cathy, here's a conspiratorial thought:

What if GWB and KR (Karl Rove) not only anticipated the fallout from the pick but also anticipate the senate refusing to confirm Meiers?

Could it be that this is a ploy to blunt any anticipated gender politics in the election of the next SC judge, just so the election of the next candidate isn't impeded (as much) by gender politics?

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

Re: Maureen Dowd's article:

The cronyism involving Bush's male friends is different than the WH employment of these "Wisteria Wives"--on the one hand, you have unqualified men benefiting financially from their brief turns in the president's employ, with the understanding they'll return the favor one day from more empowered positions. On the other, you have women who dedicate themselves solely to the president, either sacrificing their private lives, or like Karen Hughes, going back to them to wait in silence until summoned again. That's their right, but there's a qualitative difference in the sort of women Bush hires from the men. It is not sexism to make that observation.

Anonymous said...

Re: your statement "maybe it's a sign that women have arrived when a mediocre woman in public life has as much of a chance at advancement as a mediocre man."

Or it's a sign of what conservatives have always alleged was a problem with Affirmative Action.