31 August 2010

The Power of Three: On Supreme Court, Addition of Kagan Could Make a World of Difference

On Slate, Dahlia Lithwick has posted a thought-provoking piece on the impact that adding a third woman's voice could have on the US Supreme Court.

It's long been held among social scientists that three is the "magic number" when it comes to ensuring that previously marginalized voices (in this case, women) are actually heard at decision-making tables. A single woman on any governing body holds too little power relative to the rest of the group to be taken seriously; two women are often set in opposition to each other and left to duke it out while the rest of the group continues on its merry way. But when three women are included at the table, the entire dynamic tends to change -- in large part, research has found, because this is the point at which the question of whether women actually deserve to be at the table begins to fade. There is, it turns out, real power in numbers.

How that power will display itself in the highest court in the land now that there are three women on the bench will be closely monitored, no doubt, by groups on the right as well as their more liberal counterparts. Lithwick doesn't pretend to know precisely how the addition of Kagan will play out judicially, or whether she will tend to agree or disagree with her sisters Ginsburg and Sotomayor on the court. But like us, Lithwick believes that the addition of another woman to the Supreme Court is decidedly a "good thing" -- because if nothing else, it provides the court with another unique perspective on the realities of women's lives. She writes,
For centuries, the Supreme Court has been zealously opining on whether or not women are fit to practice law, or tend bar, work a 10-hour day, support their families, use birth control, or terminate their pregnancies. For most of that time, women influenced that debate only if they were lucky enough to be married to a justice. The presence, for the first time, of three women on the Supreme Court may not reshape constitutional law in any profound way. It may not even change the court all that much. But as the justices continue to decide the cases that affect the ways in which women in America are educated, hired, compensated, and afforded control over their bodies, it can only be a good thing to have three voices at the table with actual experience in the field.
Amen to all that.

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