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Friday, August 06, 2010

". . . the circumstances of our daily lives."

Yesterday, Elana Kagan became the fourth woman to be nominated and confirmed by the Senate to the United States Supreme Court. Final Count: 63-37. Five Republicans and one Democrat defected.

At age 50, she is assured a long tenure. Indeed some are already predicting that she is assured - eventually - the position of "Chief Justice".

When the Supreme Court opens this Fall, three women — a full third of the bench — will preside together for the first time in history.

She will join two other women currently serving, including Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was confirmed almost exactly a year ago, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She will be the only justice on the court not to have served previously as a judge.

However, her confirmation is not seen as immediately altering the current closely divided ideological makeup of the court, which is often split 5 to 4 on major decisions. She succeeds Justice John Paul Stevens, the leader of the court’s liberal bloc, who is retiring.

The court she is joining is sometimes known as the "Robert's court," which has increasingly placed a conservative stamp on decisions under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

She is likely to confront an array of divisive issues in coming years, like same-sex marriage, immigration and the federal government’s role in health care.

President Obama, in welcoming the Senate's action, noted that Kagan “understands that the law isn’t just an abstraction or an intellectual exercise.”

“She knows that the Supreme Court’s decisions shape not just the character of our democracy, but the circumstances of our daily lives,” the president said.

Which is why it is so important that an increasing number of women and a balance of political and ideological perspectives be represented on the highest court in the land.

Which is why I found this cartoon as provocative as it is amusing:
I'm sure all my friends from Staten Island will appreciate this. Others, especially those not from the Northeast, will not.

More of the Supreme Court members are from the Northeast than any other location in the country. As the cartoon notes, four of the members are from one of the five boroughs of Metropolitan New York.

Although we have made steady progress in terms of the nomination and confirmation of so-called "minority" representation, the preponderance of the racial make-up of the bench is Caucasian.

Interestingly enough, six of the nine judges are Roman Catholics, three are Jewish - a fact which has not gone unnoticed by my fellow Protestants and Anglo-Catholics, and understandably so.

So, who is it, exactly, who "understands the circumstances of our daily lives"? Can anyone? Really? Did Mr. Obama say that because Kagan is obviously a woman? Or, was that a political slam to Mrs. Palin who is positioning herself as "the new feminist" and so, "the people's choice" - presumably because she's a woman who "knows her place".

Thomas McCardle over at The Republic, jesting that Kagan's confirmation makes her "part of a trio TV viewers might call "Barry's Angels," notes the ideological differences of gender in this way:
The court's frequent 5-to-4 rulings will soon begin to attract more attention, and be seen in a new way. The liberal position on cases will become the "women are from Venus" perspective, sensitive and nuanced; the conservative position will become the "men are from Mars" insensitive prejudice, chauvinistic and simplistic.
If you look behind his obvious male posturing (hey, the guy knows how to attract a reading audience - it's always about job security), there is an interesting nuance to Mr. Obama's words about Kagan's ability to understand "the circumstances of our daily lives."

As the New Republic's John Judis noted approvingly after the 2008 election,
"Obama enjoyed a 13-point edge among women voters and only a one-point edge among men. He carried working women by 21 points. If you add these numbers to the Democrats' advantage among professionals and minorities, that is a good basis for winning elections."
You'll excuse me if my hermeneutic of suspicion has kicked in. It seems to be doing that more and more these days.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I voted for Hillary in the primaries. I was an avid supporter until it became clear that the nomination was going to go to Obama. Of course, I voted for him.

That doesn't mean that I wasn't thrilled when he was elected. That history was made. That we have the first Black man as President of The United States.

I would be lying if I didn't say that I am less than thrilled by his performance thus far.

Overall, I would give him a C+. In terms of the things that most directly affect the circumstances of my life, I'd have to give him an F.

To use his own words, I'm not sure he "understands that the law isn’t just an abstraction or an intellectual exercise."

I'm not at all certain that he, himself, understands "the circumstances of our daily lives."

Yes, he got the Health Care Bill passed - but did so on the backs of women who live in poverty by seriously compromising access to Reproductive Rights.

The immoral wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rage on.

Gitmo is still open for business.

I'm going to leave him alone on the economic turn around because, well, that was more than thirty years in the making. Unlike some other of my friends, I never had a messianic complex about the man.

He waited too long to act more decisively on the Oil Disaster in the Gulf, and only stepped up the intervention when the media continued to point out that BP was a major contributor to his campaign.

His promise to repeal DADT still awaits action.

His statement on the overturn of Prop 8 can only be described as lukewarm. ("The President has spoken out in opposition to Proposition 8 because it is divisive and discriminatory. He will continue to promote equality for LGBT Americans.")

Nevertheless, Obama has also publicly opposed same-sex marriage, and a White House aide said the president's position has not changed. He supports civil unions, doesn't personally support gay marriage though he supports repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, and has opposed divisive and discriminatory initiatives like Prop. 8 in other states.

I could go on, but those are issues important to me.

So, tell me again how the man understands "the circumstances of our daily lives"?

Of this I'm certain: he understand politics. And, he wants to be re-elected.

If Peggy Noonan is right, and the best the Republican party has to offer for a Presidential ticket is NJ Governor Chris Christie and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, then, as far as I'm concerned, it's Mr. Obama's election to lose.

Which, I fear, he just might if he doesn't start to kick his election promises into higher gear.

Yes, I'm thrilled that the Supreme Court will have a full one third of the bench representing the "women are from Venus" - sensitive and nuanced - perspective.

Yes, I'm thrilled that the position of Secretary of State is being superbly led by a woman. Indeed, our foreign policy has never been more skillfully and wisely managed.

I simply can't wait for the day when the Office of the President of The United States of America is filled by someone - male or female and other qualifications being otherwise equal - who really understands the circumstances of our daily lives.

Or, in the words of the T-shirt I used to wear in the 60s said, "I dream of the day when schools will be fully funded and we have to have bake sales to raise money for bombs."

That's obviously my ideology, but it assuredly not an "abstract or intellectual exercise". 

I know. Somebody cue the choir to sing, "Impossible Dream".


Elaine C. said...

According to an NPR article 6 of the 9 justices are RC -- the other three are Jewish -- right now there are no Protestants -- OK -- having vented that -- I'll go back and try to get your point. (sorry)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oops. That's what I meant to say. I'll correct it now. Thanks, Elaine.

Suzer said...

One other thing to note is the recent lack of diversity among law schools attended by the Supreme Court Justices. It seems more and more that Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are virtually the only schools you can attend to expect to rise high within the legal community. We would be better represented by a Supreme Court that came from a wider variety of legal education. I know many fine lawyers and judges that did not go to one of the top 3 schools.

And of course, there's nothing wrong with those schools per se - they are excellent. However, I worry that pedigree, prestige, and privilege wins the day, while other equally educated potential justices are never considered.

IT said...

Also, all of them have ivy-league backgrounds--and not just Ivy, but limited to Hahvahd and Yale. I'm sorry but Harvard Yale axis of privilege is not representative of American higher education, let alone America. I'd like to see someone not of the Chosen East Coast establishment. At some level, despite their differences in gender and religion, far more binds them to each other than distinguishes them.

As for Obama, he has been quite a dissappointment. Assassination ops against American citizens. An utterly craven attempt to placate those who will not be placated, and selling real change down the river. That transformative change he promised is hollow.

It's a bit like the end of Animal Farm.

it's margaret said...

I was aghast when she was being described as "charming" and "convincing" and "coy" in getting her way with conservatives.... as a matter of fact --I was pretty pissed.... instead of perhaps --savvy, determined, I don't even know what to say about coy.... give me a break....

...and, no, I must say I do not expect those in power and authority to do anything to effect the circumstances of our daily lives.... and I will stop talking right there.

Suzer said...

Ha! IT -- great minds think alike. ;)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I totally missed the "Ivy League Triangle". What does that say about what we think about our leaders?

I think we're hitting on the real issue here: classism.

IT said...

On Obama and marriage: how can you be "against marriage equality" yet "against Prop8"? The Administration's head is exploding and you KNOW they are so po'd this has come up before the midterms.

More here

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

All I can say is I agree entirely! But you know that by now, don't you?

Anonymous said...

No Protestants? But Protestants are another minority now, aren't they?
And the Mainline would much rather have Jews or (liberal)Catholics than Baptists or (shudder)Pentecostals, wouldn't it?