For the President’s Suggestion Box: Nominate a Woman

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she’s lonesome being the Court’s only woman. The New York Times pointed out that President Obama will have no lack of highly qualified women to consider when filinghis first vacancy because of the stunning advances women have made in the legal field during the past generation. This Guest Post is thanks to a woman who has been a leader in that effort, a groundbreaking legal activist, and one of the smartest people in Washington: Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President, National Women’s Law Center.

As President Obama begins his next hundred days in office, we now know for sure that he has another major item on his must-do list.  A few days ago, it was reported that Justice David Souter is expected to retire at the end of June. That means that in addition to fixing the economy, rehabilitating a broken financial system, dealing with a potential pandemic of H1N1 flu, and taking steps towards ending an impending energy crisis, to say nothing of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Obama has the responsibility of appointing an individual for a lifetime job of determining the constitutional rights and protections that underlie our democracy.

Since the President has so much on his plate, we’ll take the liberty of making a suggestion that will help make his job easier: nominate a woman. Since Justice O’Connor retired in 2005, Justice Ginsburg has been the sole woman on the Court. We have clearly moved past the days when one woman on the highest court in the land is enough. Over the past three decades, an increasing number of women have joined the legal profession. In recent years, law schools have seen the number of female students increase, so that they now make up nearly half of all law students. In 2008, one-third of lawyers were women. As Justice Ginsburg recently observed, when visitors come to the Court and see her there “all alone … it doesn’t look right.”

Having another woman on the Supreme Court is important. Justice Ginsburg said in a speech earlier this month that “Even though a wise old man and a wise old woman will reach the same decision, there are life experiences a woman has that come from growing up in a woman’s body that men don’t have. This was nowhere clearer than in an oral argument last week, in Safford Unified School District v. Redding. In that case, a girl and her mother sued her school district because when the girl was 13, school officials strip-searched her because they suspected that she was hiding ibuprofen. Among the Justices, only Justice Ginsburg appeared to comprehend the humiliation and indignity a teenaged girl would have suffered by being forced to strip and even shake out her bra and underwear in front of school officials.

When there is only one woman on the Supreme Court, it’s not just that it doesn’t look right, it’s that the Court can’t decide right.