The Supreme Court Doesn't Need Another Mom

elena kagan
Flickr photo by Harvard Law Record

Elena Kagan, President Obama's Supreme Court pick, has a lot of people wondering about how her personal life will affect her decisions. This blogger (and mom) doesn't think that someone's mommy status matters. For another blogger's perspective (also a mom), read The Supreme Court Needs Another Mom.

Elena Kagan has no children and according to Michael Roston, a writer for True/Slant, this is going to mean the difference between a caring, loving Supreme Court and a heartless Darth Vader-like Court bent on worldwide destruction.

OK, that last piece may be an exaggeration.

But seriously, Roston does make the argument in his May 9 essay that Kagan represents the end of an era of motherhood on the Court and that this is a bad thing, indeed.


Roston says:

"To me, if a woman doesn’t have a child, she has only an abstract ability to pass judgment on issues where motherhood is concerned. I say this not out of disrespect for childless women, whose own struggles I would not dare to play down. Rather, I say it out of respect for all the mothers in the world, including my own. Women with the concrete knowledge of the decision-making that comes with motherhood simply know better ... ‘A mother knows best’ as we so often say."

I really, really want to love this. I really do. After all, I'm a mother and my fellow mamas hold a special place in my heart. But try as I might, I can't shake the sense that no one would say this about a man.

I've never once heard anything about a man's fatherhood status having an effect on his ability to make decisions or advance in his career. And although I recognize that Roston is speaking in more of a general way about the Court and not calling out Kagan herself, it does ring a bit uncomfortable, as though we women are nothing more than our ovaries with some brains stuffed in as an afterthought. 

I know many "childless" women who are just as capable of empathy as those who have given birth. And I also know many cold, heartless, horrible women who have given birth. I don't think our ability to procreate has much of an effect on our ability to empathize.

I also think there's a fair amount of hypocrisy in the idea that a woman without a child can't make decisions "where motherhood is concerned." Haven't men without wombs been making those decisions for years? What about a woman who can't bear a child? Is she less able to comment on matters that have to do with motherhood just because her body is unable to produce a child?

Dangerous ground, I say. And so when Roston says (channeling Gloria Steinem):

"I must insist that a Supreme Court without a mother on the bench would be as incomplete as a tricycle with two wheels. Mothers make the world move forward, and they need to have a voice in the arrangement of our society, from the boardroom to the courtroom and beyond."

I want to agree. I really do. I believe in motherhood. I believe it has made me a stronger person who's much more capable than I ever was before. But I don't think we need a mother (or for that sake, a father) on the Supreme Court in order to make it effective.

I just don't see how the status of a person's womb is relevant to her ability to make effective decisions.

Do you think a motherless Supreme Court is really a terrible thing?

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