Thursday, May 21, 2009

Part 2: How Identity Can Matter in Supreme Court Nominations...

Gender Trap on

Citron and Lithwick (as an aside, Lithwick spoke at the Yale Club in DC recently) argue against the use of "empathy" as a criteria for selecting the next Supreme Court justice. To claim "empathy" as a deciding factor is to open the selected judge to gendered critics about their presumed "soft/feminine/weak" will in making judicious judgements in a profession of historic power.

Citron and Lithwick are concerned:
1. "Empathy" is not a tactically-sound move against Republican opponents because it entertains ideas of what makes a "proper" woman.
2. Women should not be favored because of gender differences. They do not go so far as to claim that gender differences do not exist, but they stray close.

The "empathy" code-word is an ill-advised political move and they fully represent the ways in which it has garnered non-critical criticisms from contrarians. For example, when Justice Ginsburg was criticized for claiming that other justices didn't understand the sensitivities that come with being a 13-year old girl (in the pending school strip-search case), commentators claimed that well, Ginsburg had never been a 13-year-old boy either. It was a sort of petulant turn to "well, no you don't understand."

Citron and Lithwick cite the Ginsburg example to, presumably, point out what happens when "empathy" becomes a factor of judgement - especially in the case of women: it allows for counter-arguments based on personality, rather than on analytical skill, acumen, or judgement. Gender difference becomes the point of interest, of attack.

Presuming de facto that "empathy", albeit a terrible Obama code-word for women, can only mean "motherly/soft" sensitivities of the female sex, takes conservatives up on their terms. In Citron and Lithwick's own words: "At the risk of sounding like Chief Justice John Roberts, the notion of difference based on gender merely reinforces more divisions based upon gender."

Besides, denying gender difference in the selection-process poses its own risks. While the 1950s pop/essentialist ideas of womanhood are certainly not helpful in building a case for women in the courts, gender difference should not be understood as immoveable as this. Instead, can gender difference be understood more as a social resource to which not every woman has access just because she is commonly seen to be a woman and has an indescribable feminine X factor, but instead is a social resource evidenced by judicial history? In this context, a man (and not necessarily a man of LGBTQ orientation either) can claim and access gender as a resource that enriches their professional history and their nomination.

There is no reason why this should not be a politically-intelligent strategy: recognizing gender in the nominee's litigious and scholarly history gives the administration that "empathy" factor while answering critic's clamor for more verifiable qualifications than "feeling/sympathy." The empathetic judge, after all, should be one who exercises leadership in the social subjects of concern. If the Obama administration are looking to nominate a female judge because (s)he would provide the judging body of the Supreme Court with knowledge on the material, personal aspects of American everyday life, I can't see why acknowledging her legacy in this realm would be a disservice. The difference I have with Citron and Lithwick is their wholesale rejection of "empathy" as a measuring means.

Of course, I personally believe that "empathy" should not be the bad word it's been made out be, that the Supreme Court can do with more of it. Given that "empathy" has unfortunately been relegated to the realm of the female, and humorously enough, therefore terrible - what I propose is a way to utilize identity in a more actualized manner (and one that enables men/women/LGBTQ/heterosexual/black/brown/white/asian/etc to access any number of identities beyond those with which they are born*).

Future: why not a Vietnamese man nominated for his 'real world/sympathetic' experience as a litigator/promoter of gender rights?

*i know. the biological is not clear cut, the biological can change - but for popular speak, take me up on biological determinism this once.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


You've been off your game - where are you?

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Dif. Kind of Supreme Court

Professor Harris-Lacewell - More votes for writing like this out there!

Also, here's an example of an intellectual who's located both in the academic and political realm.

There've been criticisms about "pop" academics who become mostly personality. They gain renown for exporting neatly-packaged ideas. Even more problematically, they have been criticized for gaining status of expert or "knowledge-generator" without anyone to challenge their expertise.
This last accusation is worrisome and might have a kernel of truth in it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Standing on the Backs of Slaves

Last weekend, I visited Mount Vernon.  I was mesmerized by its picturesque quality.  I drove the near twenty miles along the Potomac river on the George Washington Parkway to reach his home.  

The home captures the haphazard quality of American historical identity.  It is a plantation made to look simple, belying its 21 bedrooms.  The flanks of the home are extended by Greek colonnades and then,the slave quarters!  The back patio view looks down the sloping hills, into the Potomac, with the trees manicured to remove obstruction of the view.  Literally, the City on the Hill.

On the side of the hill is an icehouse.  The icehouse is 21 feet in depth, and functioned to store ice in order for the General's family to have ice cream.  The ice was collected from the Potomac by three slaves, whose primary role was to carry ice blocks from the Potomac, carry it up the hill, and store it in this reservoir.  The lives of three people were used and abused so that a family can have ice cream.  

In developmental economics, the return on investment is the golden answer that secures funding, political support, and reason for providing aid.  What was the return on investment of those three lives?  One of George Washington's ice cream parties in the back lawn?  The development of America did not happen because of free market principles, but because of a complete market failure that allowed four million people to be used for a nations economic growth.  

I am in a precarious stage in my political thought, where I don't know where the role of the government ends and individual rights begin.  I am writing to strategize my thought in deciphering what I believe and support.