Just call her Lady Justice

The heat's on Obama to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court.

Published May 12, 2009 9:00PM (EDT)

The pressure is on President Obama to pick a female nominee for Supreme Court justice to replace retiring Justice David Souter, and it's coming from both sides of the aisle.

Monday, Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe jointly sent a letter to the president calling on him to choose a woman: "The most important thing is to nominate an exceptionally well-qualified, intelligent person to replace Justice Souter -- and we are convinced that person should be a woman." As the two senators noted: "Women make up more than half of our population, but right now hold only one seat out of nine on the United States Supreme Court. This is out of balance. In order for the Court to be relevant, it needs to be diverse and better reflect America."

Notably, the only woman now on the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who suffers from pancreatic cancer, has lamented that she dislikes being "all alone on the court," since her colleague Sandra Day O'Connor, who was the first female Supreme Court justice, retired almost four years ago. When O'Connor was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, the Supreme Court had been in session for a whopping 189 years without a woman serving on the bench. In an interview with USA Today conducted just before Justice Souter's retirement was announced, Justice Ginsburg said that "Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. I don't say [the split] should be 50-50. It could be 60 percent men, 40 percent women, or the other way around. It shouldn't be that women are the exception."

As Justice Ginsburg attests, the significance of the gender makeup of the court goes beyond mere symbolism. In considering a recent case in which a 13-year-old girl had been strip-searched by school officials looking for drugs, some other justices minimized the girl's lasting humiliation during the oral arguments, but Ginsburg took it to heart. "They have never been a 13-year-old girl," Ginsburg said of her colleagues. "It's a very sensitive age for a girl. I didn't think that my colleagues, some of them, quite understood."

While no official list of Obama's possible picks exists, according to the New York Times, the unofficial list of contenders is made up almost entirely of women. (Salon's editor in chief Joan Walsh has written about why she thinks Obama should pick a woman here.)

On Wednesday, the president is scheduled to meet with four Senate leaders -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- to discuss filling the court vacancy, according to the New York Times. Participants will include: Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader; Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman; Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, and Sen.Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. At the risk of stating the obvious, yes, they're all guys.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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