While the inclusion of women in high profile federal positions may not seem so entirely extraordinary in the 2013, it took nearly 200 years for a woman to be sworn in as a justice of the Supreme Court. The nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor in 1981, under President Reagan, was a historic and important step forward in the representation of women in the judicial system, and overall, federal government of the United States.
With the recent major decisions of SCOTUS fresh in our minds, let's take a moment to celebrate the female justices of the highest Court in the U.S. by examining their accomplishments pre-SCOTUS.
1. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Perhaps the only Supreme Court justice to have a tumblr dedicated to her, Bader Ginsburg also holds the distinction of being the most prolific litigator of SCOTUS. An article featured on Think Progress even lauds her as "the most important women's rights attorney in American history." As the Director of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, she worked tirelessly, authoring the brief for Reed vs. Reed, which resulted in the Court's decision that Equal Protections prescribed in the Constitution applied to women. She also worked on Craig vs. Boren, which "convinced the Court to hand down its very first decision holding that gender discrimination laws are subject to heightened constitutional scrutiny."
But even as she represented the legal front for women's rights, she raised two children. In a recent profile in the New Yorker, in regards to managing her work and her family, Bader Ginsburg said, "It bothers me when people say to make it to the top of the tree you have to give up a family. They say, ‘Look at Kagan, look at Sotomayor’ … What happened to O’Connor, who raised three sons, and I have James and Jane [her son and daughter with Martin Ginsburg]?" Bader Ginsburg is an example, who illuminates the possibilities of pursing a fulfilling and world-changing career, while raising a family as well.
2. Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Upon her nomination as the next Supreme Court justice, the press release issued by the White House cited Sotomayor "as one of the ablest federal justices currently sitting." On a similar note, a Huffington Post profile of her noted that she brought more "federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in 100 years." Her diverse experiences as first an assistant district attorney, and later a federal judge range from convicting the notorious "Tarzan Murderer" in 1983 to saving baseball by protecting collective bargaining rights.
Even before beginning her legal career, as a student, Sotomayor advocated for minority representation at Princeton University, filing a complaint through the student group, Acción Puertorriqueña, with the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare, charging that Princeton used an "'institutional pattern of discrimination' in hiring 'Puerto Rican and Chicano' faculty, as well as in admitting students from those ethnic groups." Sotomayor's courage to confront institutional discrimination, as an undergrad, cannot be understated. She provides a model for young women, of all backgrounds, showing the importance of standing up for equal representation for all.
3. Justice Elena Kagan
While she served in various law-oriented positions, such as the special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1993 and as the Deputy Assistant on domestic policy to former President Clinton, Kagan has dedicated a good portion of her career to academia. Even as an undergraduate at Princeton University, she assisted in penning, along with former governor Eliot Spitzer, the "Declaration of the Campaign for a Democratic University," published in The Daily Princetonian. The editorial called for "'a fundamental restructuring of university governance.' They condemn Princeton’s administration for making decisions 'behind closed doors,'" drawing attention to the lack of a student-center experienced.
Later, as the Dean of Harvard University Law School, Kagan similarily advocated for students, creating what Kevin Washburn of the University of Mexico, School of Law called "the Miracle at Harvard." Her "transformational leadership" brought a community-centered focus to the school and fostered a more positive student experience. In addition, while a controversial moment for conservatives, Kagan expressed her strong disagreement with the arrival of military recruiters on campus, citing the discriminatory policy of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In an email to faculty and students, she wrote, "This action causes me deep distress. I abhor the military's discriminatory recruitment policy. It is a profound wrong — a moral injustice of the first order." During her time in academia, Kagan illustrated the importance of not only a student-centered experience, but the role of an accepting and equality-based community.