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Amy Coney Barrett Is a Mom—Just What the Supreme Court Needs?

Vivia Chen

October 14, 2020

Vintage-1319058_1920Listen up, women of America: If Amy Coney Barrett gets to the U.S. Supreme Court, every day will be Mother’s Day. Instead of being taken for granted, you will be feted for your wisdom, life skills and fecundity. In fact, the more kids you have, the higher your stock. So start producing!

That message came out loud and clear during the first day of Barrett’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The other message: Woe to those who would criticize Barrett. That’s like assailing motherhood itself. 

I never knew conservatives held moms in such high esteem (except, of course, Mike Pence who calls his wife “Mother”). But ever since Barrett got nominated to the high court, her champions have elevated motherhood to the status of a superpower that makes Barrett super-qualified for the Supreme Court.

I mean, did you catch all the “mother” and “mom” references during the confirmation process so far? Honestly, I lost count.

First, just about all the Republicans gushed about Barrett’s seven children. Lindsey Graham, who presides over the Senate Judiciary Committee, even marveled at the “two adopted” Haitian kids. (On the second day, Sen. Ted Cruz also praised Barrett for adopting, then spent the bulk of his time asking about her parenting style.)

Utah Sen. Mike Lee went further, suggesting that Barrett is the mother of mothers because she honed her maternal skills early on. “You are the oldest of seven children, which means that long before you had your own seven children, you were also the de facto mother to many others,” Lee said.

You could practically see the Madonna halo on Barrett’s head. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst conflated motherhood with Barrett’s religious faith, wrapping them in one holy package. Ernst told Barrett that Democrats are “attacking your faith and your precious family … attacking you as a mom and a woman of faith.” Ernst ended her speech, singing the powers of motherhood: “This, folks, is what a mom can do!”

There was also the message that moms are inherently caring. Responding to Sen. Diane Feinstein’s suggestion that Barrett might dismantle the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Chuck Grassley fumed: “That’s outrageous! … As a mother of seven, Judge Barrett clearly understands the importance of health care.” 

And only those who are just hostile to moms would be against Barrett, scolded Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn. “You’d think my colleagues would jump at the opportunity to support a successful female … who is a working mom,” she said. In her tweet, Blackburn also noted that Barrett “would be the FIRST mother of school-aged children EVER to serve on the United States Supreme Court.”

How nice—a justice young enough to stay on the court for the next 30 to 40 years.

It’s as if conservatives have been waiting for this moment to play the mommy card. In an essay titled “Amy Coney Barrett Is the Best Mom for the Supreme Court” in the Washington Examiner, lawyer Katie Glenn is almost giddy that a super mom like Barrett (“an active mom of seven”) is inheriting RBG’s seat: 

“Could Ginsburg have imagined, when she was graduating law school top of her class without job offers because she was a woman and a mother, that someday the president would choose her successor for the Supreme Court from a group of qualified, talented working moms? Now, another working mother at the top of her law school class can carry on that legacy and continue to trailblaze for women in the legal profession.” 

Being “judge, professor, wife, mom,” adds Glenn, “all have prepared her for another title: associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

OK, I got it. Barrett will be empathetic, patient, sagacious and an all-around wonderful justice—because she is a mom. 

Puhleeze.

First of all, why are we making such a fuss about Barrett’s parental status? Yes, it’s an achievement to be mom to seven kids, but so what? Justice Antonin Scalia also had a huge family—nine kids—but I don’t recall this kind of hoopla about his family. Who would even think of suggesting that Scalia’s daddy status made him a better choice for the high court?

Yet that’s where we are. To say that it’s sexist to place such weight on a woman’s maternal status is obvious. 

But it’s not just conservative Republicans making this argument. Folks on the left have said the same stupid thing. We heard it during the Obama administration when the then-president was criticized for naming two childless women—Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan—to the Supreme Court. At that time, there was a lot of talk about how women’s experience as mothers gave them unique, perhaps deeper, perspectives about the human condition. The underlying message was that childless women are incomplete, somehow missing the full picture. 

What a gauzy and misinformed view of the influence of motherhood. While I don’t doubt being a mom (or dad) affects our thinking, let’s not presume that people make better decisions because of the experience. And let’s not make motherhood more overblown than it already is. Because who needs that? 

vchen@alm.com

Twitter: @lawcareerist


Related Posts:

Feminist or Handmaid?

“I’d Rather Have A Straight, White Dude on the Supreme Court.”

 

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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