Three “wise” women will change the Supreme Court

By Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite When Elena Kagan is confirmed by the Senate and becomes a justice of the Supreme Court, … Continued

By Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

When Elena Kagan is confirmed by the Senate and becomes a justice of the Supreme Court, she will join Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in making history. Three women, fully one third of the court, will be serving at the same time. They are likely to change the Supreme Court in ways that go far beyond even their numbers. These are not only three highly intelligent and accomplished women, they are also “wise” women. They are “wise” both in the sense meant by Sotomayor when she made her famous comment about “wise Latinas,” and in the biblical sense, as wisdom is often personified as female and a public advocate for justice. “Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares.” (Proverbs 1:20)

In many speeches, prior to being nominated to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor referred to her life experiences as a woman and a Latina and expressed the hope that this was part of what helped her reach good judicial decisions. “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion.” Not just different conclusions, she seemed to be saying, and once actually did say, but better decisions than those “white men” who lacked the experiences of being both female and non-white.

I believe this means that the view from “outside” the realm of privilege can give a person more insight than the view from “inside” privilege. Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both women and Jewish, also share this “outsider” experience in terms of both gender and religion. One cannot argue, of course, that exceptional Ivy League educations, an experience all these women share, are totally an aspect of “outsider” status. Yet, even there, to be a woman in an elite institution and a high-performing professional in a male-dominated field does teach one that gender, in particular, matters in how one is treated, and thus how one sees the world. It is no accident that Ginsburg has spent a considerable portion of her legal career advocating for the equal citizenship status of women and men as a constitutional principle.

The Judiciary committee is scheduled to vote on the appointment of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court this week. Conservative opposition is increasing,and a delay may occur, but the votes are there to confirm. It’s just a matter of when.

The arguments for conservative opposition are interesting, and revealing. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, a senior Republican and member of the committee, announced his opposition because, in his view, Kagan did not hold “the appropriate judicial philosophy.” That “appropriate judicial philosophy” apparently means the pretense to “objectivity” that, for example, Judge John Roberts so staunchly maintained in his confirmation hearings was his judicial philosophy. That was, of course, until Roberts joined the court. He has now shown himself to be a conservative judicial activist. People of privilege often do delude themselves that they are being objective, when they are in fact captive to their own life experiences and yet have not been forced, by having to live as an outsider, to consider the “view from below.”

Being “wise” like a Latina, and like the biblical figure “Wisdom” does not entail a pretense to objectivity. In both the Christian and Jewish scriptures, wisdom is the sense of justice like that of King Solomon; the idea that judging fairly means looking into the complicated human emotions that often drive legal conflicts, and that make judging so difficult. (1 Kings 3) But biblical Wisdom is not just wise judgment; Wisdom is also creative. Wisdom is there with God even before creation, and Wisdom delights in human beings. (Proverbs 8:22-31) Wisdom is mentioned more than 200 times in the Bible, and not only in the personified female figure of Wisdom, nor the wisdom of the mighty like Solomon. All people are encouraged to increase in wisdom as in both Proverbs and Psalms.

Women don’t “own” being wise–and not all women’s life experience has made them wise. But perhaps one of the reasons the biblical figure of Wisdom is personified as female is that women have not had much access to power and privilege in human history. Women have had to learn to be wise through insight, and through cultivating relationships that help them achieve their ends. Women have learned to use power indirectly, and employ the power of persuasion and the wisdom of insight into human experience to do so, and in the case of these three women, to do so effectively.

That’s why I think three “wise” women will change the Supreme Court. It’s not really a matter of how they vote, but rather how they arrive at those decisions.

About

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • WmarkW

    I’m more concerned about whether they actually uphold free speech, or whether being inconsistent with feminist ideology is a test of whether it’s protected or not.

  • linuxlund

    First, if Latinas are so wise, how come Latin America looks like hell? Isn’t it likely that Sotomayor believes in the same stuff they do? Do we need hell here too? Do we need that? Secondly, if a Justice’s sole job is to adhere to the constitution and make sure laws passed adhere to the constitution, how or why should three women fundamentally change the outcomes of the court? Are they playing by other rules? Where in the constitution is there room for that? This whole Obama thing with new Justices suck. The US will suffer. You can’t wait to go Nicaragua, can you? And you are wondering why the US is sinking? Want a clue to why that is? It’s because of voters like you.

  • blasmaic

    Somehow I believe the supporters of Kagan would succeed better if they avoided the term “wise” when speaking about her. She’ll be a perfect book-end to Justice Thomas… a liability to her smarter allies and easily savaged by her critics. When Kagan and Thomas join on one side of a case together then that will be an opinion worth noting, but not worth reading.

  • MarkDavidovich

    I hope that soon-to-be-confirmed Justice Kagan will make good decisions despite her Ivy League, womanly background, and that Justice Sotomayor does the same despite her Latina background. Our backgrounds are sources of our prejudices. Judges are called upon to decide what the law is despite their own prejudices. Of course judges of all backgrounds and prejudices fail to do so. It’s hard to go beyond one’s prejudices even if one knows those prejudices. It is human nature to act upon them, and even to deny their existence or importance in making decisions.That is why diversity of prejudice, ensured by diversity of background, is important. At least then there is a statistical possibility that different prejudices will cancel each other out. No individual litigant is guaranteed of winning his or her own just case, nor even to be heard before a judge prejudiced in the litigant’s favor (or even not prejudiced against the litigant’s interests). But a judiciary with broad diversity of backgrounds (and therefore broad diversity of prejudice) at least guarantees litigants coming into court a chance at a sympathetic judge or judges.

  • Taylorsucram

    Some of the comments here “tickle” me. Of course three women on the Supreme Court will make all the difference in the world. My mom, an African-American who grew up in Texas during Jim Crow, once talked a white pastor into leaving his church because the deacons sent him to our house to tell my mom not to send her children to their church. After she finished reading his bible to him he went back to his church and packed his bags and, along with his wife and child, left for parts unknown. Women can talk a man into anything, just give them time!

  • 4SimpsonsDotWordpressDotCom

    Three “wise” pro-abortion women. Abortion is the ultimate misogyny. How sad that the defining characteristic of the Left is to be pro-abortion, and how said that anyone who is pro-abortion would claim to follow Christ.

  • jackburris1

    Your premise makes me shutter. To think all virtue and judicial prudence must be based on old fables of sheep herders is beyond comprehension.

  • chatard

    Yeah, Susan, no need to be objective about it. Just be ‘wise’. Don’t even need to pretend to be objective. Just render the wise decisions you secular progressives want. “Why everyone knows that’s the way it ought to be”!!!! (Banging head against wall – crying over trillions diverted from research and charity to the Susan Br0oks Thistlewaite’s of the world).

  • muawiyah

    Amazingly the only sort of women Obama knows are kind of thuggish ~ That’s a pretty good insight into his psyche, and it’s dreadful. Frankly, if I were totally impolite I’d be asking if he knows any normal people.

  • onthejourney

    Aren’t all people normal?

  • pgibson1

    Let’s not start proceedings for Sainthood quite yet. The latest mommy figure isn’t X-tian, but in your world, of course you words mean everything and are bent in ways that many will find offensive.Odd that you would muddy the judicial waters for all (separation of church and state) Americans – Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Hindi people all over THIS land and the only faith you tend to myopically recognize, X-tianity.There is some editorailising in this article that I’m surely not impressed with.So these Justices – the one’s without penises, that is, are being equated to the three magi from the Christian Bible with this article?I know your score, lady.Keep it up, but first lets see what your trio of Messiah/heros do.I personally do not have a magical, mystical crystal ball, like you seem to intone.What a Butch article.

  • A_lite_to_the_blind

    What a “rosey” and fanciful article by Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, trimmed with lace and other ignominious frills. To affirm Kagan to the Supreme Court is not an act of wisdom but of pure folley. She has never demonstatrated any form of judicial wisdom.How inept this author is at quoting scripture to erroniously perfume her arguments in support of the “dumbed down” philosophy of “political correctness”, calling it wisdom. While I am confident that there are indeed women who possess wisdom, I find Elena Kagan devoid of any such quality or attribute! He political philosophies will not bode well for a democratic society, but would most assuredly serve the whims of her master Obamanations socialist reform agenda.We all see a nation of laws upon laws, drafted by those who lack true Godly wisdom. We have long endured those who set upon the bench as judges who are in need of wisdom, worthy of being judged and certainly unqualified to judge others.Those who have been elevated to high political office who sit with tacit approval of Kagan have done little more than to demostrate that they are fools and unworthy to represent the people who placed them there. Yet, in time, even the mighty will be brought low by their own craftiness and blind arrogance.Wisdom is not a female! Wisdom is a gift from the Lord God Jehovah. It is not given to the high minded and the hauty, but to the meek and the lowly. The humble man, not the arrogant. For the wisdom of men is foolishness to God! The righteousness of men is like filthy rags in His sight.

  • A_lite_to_the_blind

    Typo Correction on previous post:Her (not He) political philosophies will not bode well for a democratic society, but would most assuredly serve the whims of her master Obamanations socialist reform agenda.

  • samuellenn

    Wise? How do you call someone wise when they hate america so much.

  • OldAtlantic

    Wouldn’t the 3 witches of MacBeth work better? Their goal is to help MacBeth kill Duncan, the rightful king. This could stand for killing the Southern White Race which has a large Scots element. They do this by immigration. The Wright Island Model Theorem proves immigration is genocide of the White Race in America.More fundamentally, to Leftists, Christianity is heavily Greek based and Jesus is made in the image of Socrates. To kill Christianity, they have to kill Socrates, which again means killing the White Race. This leaves now identifying who MacBeth might be. Many immigrationists could fit the role.

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