At last the curtain has come down on the thriller of the season. The Supreme Court has recessed, and all of you who have been breathlessly poised on the edge of your chairs awaiting yet another momentous moment may feel free to inhale and exhale.
But before you break for the popcorn, allow me to review the show. As a permanent ticketholder, it seems to me that the Supreme Court is becoming a kind of Disney production of the law.
In its judgments on women, sex and sex discrimination, the justices behaved less and less like nine legal giants and more and more like the seven dwarfs. It isn't all that hard to pick out Sneezy, Doc, Grumpy, Bashful, Dopey, Happy and Sleepy lurking behind the robes.
Nor is it hard to realize that their favorite female fantasy figure is Snow White.
For a brief rerun of the highlights, follow me. Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to court we go.
The decisions this year seemed to come in pairs. On the teen-age sex front, the court began by upholding a law that says parents must be notified before their daughter has an abortion.
The point was not to open a G-rated scene of family support but, rather, to make abortion more difficult. As Chief Justice Burger put it blatantly, "State action encouraging childbirth . . . is rationally related to the legitimate governmental object of protecting potential life."
The minor who was too "immature" to choose an abortion is nevertheless mature enough to become a mother.
But if the justices were perfectly willing to send daughters off to delivery rooms, they also were willing to send sons off to jail. On the same day, they upheld the old jail-bait laws, the ones that punish men alone for the "crime" of having sex with minors their own age.
Here the plot thickens. Justice Rehnquist adheres to a balance-of-terror view of sex. The girls' terror of pregancy is to be balanced with the boys' terror of jail. The criminal punishment imposed on males, he wrote, serves to "roughly equalize the deterrents on the sexes."
Do you think Rehnquist whistles while he works?
The court was far more interested in equalizing the deterrents to sex than equalizing the sexes.
On another technicolor day, the court ruled first that a mother did not have the right to a lawyer in a case where she lost permanent custody of her child. A man, however, did have the right to an expensive medical test to prove that he wasn't a father.
Then, they was the draft decision. The reasoning (I use the word loosly) behind the court's decision to uphold an all-male draft went in the following circle: women were barred from combat, therefore it is okay to bar them from the draft, and so they should be barred from combat. The justices said nothing about whether women could or should fight on the front. Nor did they say anything about other cruical roles they could perform. They simply rallied around the Snow White view of the sleeping sex.
Rehnquist, who has this cute little habit of calling sex-discrimination by all sorts of nicknames, said that the Constitution did not require Congress to indulge in "gestures of superficial equality." In other words, women should stay in their traditional roles.
But if women do, the same court said the morning after the draft decision, they will discover that the job of helpmate and military wife is worth absolutely nothing. An Army wife is no longer entitled to any portion of her husband's pension in the event of a divorce. The justices overruled a California statute that includes the assets of either partner as community property. They did so, they said, because the defense of the nation came first. It appears that the national security rests on the ability of men to get the whole pension for themselves.
We are told that all of these decisions are nothing more than the Supreme Court readings of everybody's favorite script, the Constitution. If this is how the Constitution protects women, is there any wonder why it needs amending?
In the meantime, any women who expects this court to play Prinse Charming had better wake up all by herself.