In early Egypt, in ancient Rome, in Renaissance Europe and outside most 21st-century American courthouses, justice has been represented by that woman with a sword, scales and a blindfold. You know her, right? Lady Justice.
But funny how inside the courtrooms? There are not many Lady Justices to be found.
The majority of this country’s population is represented by only three female justices on the nine-member U.S. Supreme Court. Activists are pressing President Obama to nominate a women of color to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died suddenly last month. But Senate Republicans — overwhelmingly male — have vowed to block any nominee, of any gender, color or qualification. Nice, right?
The Supreme Court’s gender diversity is actually a little better than a lot of benches. In the highest state courts across the country, only 29 percent of judges are women, according to the National Association for Women Judges.
Is this because we simply don’t have women qualified for judicial appointments? Of course not.
Take the example in Virginia. The cartoonish resistance to female judges played out there yet again this week, when Republicans finally won an ugly partisan battle to dump a nonpartisan, high-quality female judge for the state Supreme Court.
Justice Jane Marum Roush, who deftly presided over the Beltway sniper trial, had a distinguished 22-year judicial record in Fairfax County. She came recommended by a Republican.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) appointed Roush to a seat on the Virginia Supreme Court that opened while the legislature was out of session last summer. She became the third woman among seven justices. And that should have won McAuliffe praise.
Instead it touched off a political firestorm, pitting the governor against Republican members of the House of Delegates, who refused to make her temporary appointment permanent. No reason given, no interviews done, no formal complaints filed.
At first, it looked as though this might just be partisan politics, a sucker punch to McAuliffe. If he wanted her, the Republicans didn’t.
But throughout the political showdown, it’s been raining men in Virginia — a parade of male candidates for the job, not a female candidate in sight.
They tried to pick their own guy, Court of Appeals Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. But he didn’t appeal enough to get a passing vote.
Then they tried to throw a cherry bomb — former attorney general Ken Cuccinelli (R) — into the mix. Cuccinelli, one of Virginia’s most polarizing politicians, recently lost the gubernatorial race.
But Cuccinelli withdrew from the contest Wednesday, after “prayerfully” considering the run.
On Thursday, though, the House Republicans handed a 12-year judgeship to Stephen R. McCullough, a state Court of Appeals jurist who worked in the attorney general’s office under Cuccinelli. He breezed through his 20-minute interview on Wednesday.
Yup, 20 minutes.
Judge Roush served with an impeccable and impartial record for 22 years, then served on the Supreme Court for nearly a full year. Her opponents never gave a reason to get rid of her.
But a 20-minute interview — which was shorter than my son’s preschool interview, shorter than the grilling a candidate for a fast-food job gets — was enough for yet another white male to sit on the state Supreme Court.
Why all these machinations to keep Roush off the bench?
Because of politics?
Roush was backed by a Republican, so no.
Because of diversity?
Alston is African American, so no.
Because they didn’t want an activist, unabashedly partisan judge in the mix?
Cucinnelli is vociferous in his politics, and Roush is not, so no.
Because they wanted someone with more courtroom experience?
McCullough was just getting out of law school when Roush was serving her fifth year as a Virginia judge, and he didn’t make it onto the bench until 2011, so no.
Is it because Roush is a woman?
Well, unless their real hangup is they simply don’t want people whose last name begins with R, her gender is about all that’s left for them to object to, right?
“It’s because we’re not in the back rooms yet,” Penny J. White, a law professor at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, told me when Roush was fighting to keep her job last fall. White knows something about this, having served on the Tennessee State Supreme Court. “When those backroom deals are made, it’s mostly men making those decisions.”
And some of the same forces are in play as President Obama tries to fill the seat left open by Scalia (R). (Oh, wait, we’re not supposed to place that R behind a judge’s name? Scalia made me forget).
The Notorious RBG — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — has her ideas about what this president and the next president should do.
“People ask me sometimes, ‘When do you think it will be enough? When will there be enough women on the court?’ ” she once said in a speech. “And my answer is when there are nine.”
Yup. Because until 1981, when Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed by a Republican icon, President Ronald Reagan, there had always — ALWAYS — been nine men.
Think about it. For 192 years, nine men had the last, legal word across the land.
Why not nine women?
Let’s get started.
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