Where are the liberal trumpets, the minority fanfare, thefeminist ruffles and flourishes? After all, Ronald Reagan has joined the ranks of the believers in affirmative action.
Reagan has disclosed -- perhaps "boasted" is better -- that if he is elected and the opportunity presents itself, he will appoint a woman to the Supreme Court.
Not the best-qualified person , mind you, but a woman.
But nobody is cheering. Feminists consider Reagan's pre-election promise a cheap trick to make women forget the GOP's anti-feministattitude. Liberals fear that the appointee may be a Phyllis Schlafly or an Anita Bryant (you don't have to be a lawyer, you know). Blacks who have worried all along that Reagan's court appointees might be the sort who would pull the plugon racial progress aren't much cheered by the prospect thatone of the plug-pullers might be female.
There is one more thing to worry about: how long can it be -- if Reagan wins and appoints a woman justice -- before the court is involved in its own reverse-discrimination suit? Either as an individual or in a class action, some man is sure to contend that Reagan's advance commitment to name a woman to the court unfairly diminished his own chances to serve: sex discrimination.
As a matter of fact, there are already people -- conservatives, mostly -- talking about how dreadful it is that Reagan would tarnish the reputation of the court by making asex consideration in his choice of justices.
It isn't that they have anything against a woman on the Supreme Court, they insist it's just that a justice's gender should be incidental, a whohappenstobe -- as in: "The newest member of thecourt is a distinguished judge and legal scholar whohappenstobe a woman."
(These same people made no outcry when the incidentals were reversed, as when the GOP platform mandatedthe appointment of persons who oppose abortion but whohappentobe competent judges.)
Perhaps the most interesting thing about any of this is that so many people find it interesting. Presidents and other officials with the power to appoint have always exercised that power -- at least to some degree -- with a view toward balancing the interests of their important constituencies.
The reasons for this are politicalin two senses: First, the appointments tend to create or cement loyalties to the appointer. Second, they tend to give the various constituencies the sense that they each have a stake in their government.
This second reason is particularly important for groups that historically have been kept out of power and influence. Once the breakthroughs are made, they tend to become traditional.
Once the local school board gets a black member or two, there will probably always be a black member or two. Once a woman or a black is appointed to a Cablinet-level post, subsequent presidents are likely to see some value in appointing others.
There has been only one black member of the Supreme Court, but already there is the assumption that there will be another after JusticeThurgood Marshall leaves the bench.
Nobody will talk (except unofficially) about a "black" seat on the school board or a "woman's" Cabinet post or a "Jewish" seat on the Supreme Court. They come to be taken for granted, a sort of tacitgentlemen's agreement.
Now Reagan proposes to cut the ladies in on the pact, and some people are complaining that heis demeaning the court. iOne conservative critic wondered what Reagan might do if it came down to a choice between a John Marshall and some undistinguished Jane Doe.
He seems to assume two things, neither of them true: 1) that no one can spot a John Marshall (or even an Earl Warren) in advance and 2) that efforts to fill a Supreme Court vacancy always involve a national search for the best jurist or constitutional scholar in the land.
In fact, about the best we can expect is that a president will take some care to find people of demonstrated competency and fairness. There are a lot of those out there, including a fair number of whohappentobe women.