Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Would we have to call her a "Justicette?"

Idaho today became one of two states in the Union to have a Supreme Court with zero women on the bench. It's a dubious distinction that's displeased more than a few Idahoans. From the Idaho Statesman:

Peg Dougherty, the vice president of the Idaho Women Lawyers organization, said Otter's decision to appoint a man to Trout's seat "puts the state at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting smart women lawyers to the state."

"Idaho Women Lawyers is extremely disappointed that the governor did not take advantage of this opportunity to show leadership and place a woman on the Idaho Supreme Court," she said.

Our esteemed governor, not to mention the new justice himself, don't see what the big fuss is about, however.

Otter said he didn't fill the seat with an eye for gender. Instead, he looked for balance on the court and considered the applicants' ratings by the Idaho Judicial Commission, which vetted all hopefuls first, and comments from attorneys around the state.

"I didn't see this as a gender seat. What I looked for was the best candidate," Otter said.

And from the nominee himself:

Horton, however, said he didn't think gender would be an issue in the high court's rulings.

"My flip answer is that as a male, I wouldn't know," Horton joked.

Me, I don't find his answer all that funny, because it's a fantastic demonstration of the kind of sexism that's being displayed by both men here; the male is the standard, while the female is something different, something extra, that isn't required of a body that's supposed to exhibit a balance of understanding that make for a more robust interpretation of law. Otter doesn't "see this as a gender seat," because when he hears "gender" he thinks "not-male person." But clearly, Horton is working a gender identity (male), one that comes with the privilege that allows he and his superiors to pretend to completely ignore it.

How do we know that it's pretending to be gender-blind that's led to an all-male bench, and not true gender blindness? Because the chances of a court's members coming out to be 100% male in an age where a large proportion of successful attorneys are female are very slim. Looking at the numbers, it becomes clear that something is biasing the appointments towards men.

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