Continuing my previous thoughts about Justice Souter’s replacement on the Supreme Court, his colleague Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg took the unusual step this week of giving an extraordinary interview to USA Today in which she made it clear that the Supremes need more women to ensure greater human perspective on the Court.
I was especially taken by the insight she shared about how her male colleagues viewed the stakes in the recent case involving the strip search of a 13 year-old girl by school authorities. Some of the men on the Court did not see the problem with school officials ordering the girl to strip down to her undies so that they could search for an impermissible tablet of Advil. Justice Stephen Breyer wondered what all the fuss was about, since kids have to change their clothes in gym locker rooms all the time.
Men! Those of us who have ever been 13 year-old girls shudder in horrific sympathy with Savanna Redding’s utter humiliation in the school office.
In the same way, Justice Ginsburg points out that she has been completely alone in understanding the plaintiff’s point of view in cases regarding discrimination against pregnant women and pay equity cases. The male justices tend to view all facts as gender neutral; the lone woman, who used to have a great colleague in now-retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, knows that life is NOT gender neutral, nor is discrimination, nor is justice.
The task of the Supreme Court is to ensure equal justice for all — but that does NOT mean that everyone can be treated in exactly the same way. Gender, like race, matters. Justice cannot be achieved by turning a blind eye to the myriad characteristics of the human condition. Illegal and unconstitutional discrimination does not usually announce its presence; cultural norms or perceived emergencies can repress the recognition of infringements on individual rights. The well-intended goal of eradicating the use of illegal drugs among school children cannot permit school authorities to engage in routine acts of public humiliation of students any more than the desire of the United States to ensure national security can justify detainment of prisoners without charges or the use of torture. Respect for the human person is the bedrock of constitutional law and justice in this nation. A Supreme Court that reflects the breadth of the human condition will ensure greater protection for the rights of all people than a Court that shares one limited perspective.