Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court reflects a demographic trend that is becoming increasingly notable in the upper ranks of government. I'm not speaking about the potential for a critical mass of women on the Supreme Court. Instead, I think it's worth pointing out that of those three, a disproportionate majority do not have children. Of the women on the court, only Ruth Bader Ginsburg has children. Sandra Day O'Connor, who retired in 2005, had three sons. It is odd that the first two women nominated to the Supreme Court were both mothers, and that both women who have followed them are not.
Perhaps for Ginsburg, who lived in a time when Harvard Law School's Dean personally asked her to defend how she could take a spot that could have gone to a man, (click here for that article) being a woman professional posed so many struggles that the additional challenges of motherhood were just drops in the bucket. Or perhaps, like winning the support of Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, or sliding through confirmation hearings despite an activist history with the American Civil Liberties Union, rising to the ranks of the Supreme Court while mothering has somehow become a nostalgic thing of the past. But I certainly hope not.
In an article advocating for the presence of more mothers on the Court, The Daily Beast's Peter Beinart writes that "[o]ur government is actually doing a pretty good job of providing role models for the 20 percent of American women who [according to Census Bureau records on women over 40] don't want kids. Where it's failing is in providing role models for the 80 percent that do." Beinart points out that all seven of the current male Supreme Court Justices have children, and that Antonin Scalia alone has nine (enough to staff a court). The double standard at work here instructs men that they can have it all, but lets women know that they cannot hope for the same balance in their lives.
In 1950, the first year that the school admitted women, Harvard Law School hosted a talk entitled "Women's Education: Kitchen or Career" Swap a nursery for the kitchen, and it is clear that six decades later, women are still disproportionately forced to choose between children or a career.
By Yan Cao, BBLP Member