by Fatima Goss Graves, Senior Counsel,
National Women’s Law Center
Recent print and television commentators have claimed that no white man need apply for the Supreme Court. Correction – they also believe that people in their 60s also need not apply. The underlying assumption, as Benjamin Wittes wrote in the Washington Post over the weekend, is that “gender, ethnicity and age have, from the very start of the search for Souter’s replacement, placed off-limits many lawyers and judges who colleagues regard as some of the best in their profession.” I’m not sure when President Obama ever said he would not consider older, white males for the Supreme Court. In fact, here’s what we know about the President’s criteria for nominating justices. He is looking for people “who understand justice is not just about some abstract legal theory,” and who get that laws affect the lives of ordinary people.
But let’s assume that President Obama is indeed looking for candidates who are women or people of color. This is something to celebrate, since many of these candidates are themselves “some of the best in their profession” – but have been foreclosed, for far too long, from selection to the nation’s highest court. Considering diverse candidates is not, as Wittes seems to assume, antithetical to finding high quality nominees. In fact, it is an essential component of that enterprise.
To be sure, organizations like the National Women’s Law Center have urged the President to increase the number of women on the Supreme Court beyond the sole female justice – Justice Ginsburg – who herself has identified the need for company. There are numerous exceptionally qualified women who would bring to the Court the real world perspective that the President is seeking. It is only by taking these facts into consideration that the President can do his part to ensure that the Supreme Court complies with the motto carved over its front door: EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW.