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Gender Bias Disrobed - Too "Overweight" To Be a Supreme Court Nominee?

By May 11, 2009

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Don't get too excited over the prospect of the next Supreme Court nominee possibly being female. Because when it comes to the advancement of women in our society, they giveth and they taketh away.

Sure, qualified women are being considered. But some are having to pass a litmus test that has nothing to do with belief systems and everything to do with body consciousness. As we wait for a nominee to be named, weight is becoming an issue in some circles. And that should turn everyone's stomach.

As Paul Campos writes in The Daily Beast, "Fat Judges Need Not Apply":

Consider the two women widely considered the frontrunners for the nomination: former Harvard Law School dean and current Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and federal appellate judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Within hours after the news broke that Souter was resigning, concerns arose that Kagan and Sotomayor might be too fat to replace him. A commentator on the site DemConWatch.com noted...Kagan and Sotomayor ďare quite overweight. Thatís a risk factor that they may not last too long on the court because of their healthĒ....

Kaganís and Sotomayorís current weights almost certainly do not even correlate with any increased mortality risk, let alone one that ought to be considered in the nomination process (for average-height women, no increased mortality risk correlating with weight begins to appear until weights above 200 pounds).

So whatís the real motivation for all the anxiety about the bodies that house two such apparently distinguished legal minds? A glance at the comments at a site such as Abovethelaw.com, which features a number of vicious attacks on Kaganís appearance, provides one clue. For some men, the only thing more intolerable than the sight of a powerful woman is the sight of a powerful woman they donít want to sleep with.

I've bolded the last sentence to highlight a serious injustice in these proceedings. Weight has never appeared to be an issue for male nominees to the Supreme Court. Neither Clarence Thomas nor Antonin Scalia were skinny minnies when they were named. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is notably thin. Is that why she was nominated?

What will it take for our society to stop judging women on looks first, intelligence second? We don't do this with men. This type of gender bias is the thorn in the side of every capable, competent woman who has to constantly worry about how she looks if she wants to be viewed as worthy of consideration.

If we can't apply this simple principle of gender equity to the consideration of a Supreme Court nominee - a job where a sexy figure under a voluminous black robe doesn't make a bit of a difference - where can we expect to find justice?

Related article: History of Women on the Supreme Court

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May 11, 2009 at 1:57 pm
(1) whiteknyght says:

“We don’t do this with men.”

Yeah… I wish I lived in that utopia. Try walking around an entire life in any body that doesn’t fit the norm.

May 12, 2009 at 8:17 am
(2) Jane C Woods says:

Oh doesn’t it make your blood boil! Sometimes it seems nothing changes. Appearance is all,in fact 55% of how a message is received(words 7% voice £38%)and where women are concerned that is so very judgemental. Are we still in the male paradigm of women being whores or madonnas?? Attractive only to men’s ideal of attractiveness?
One of the worse things is when women in power start adopting these male behaviours too. Support the sisterhood or we’ll never get anywhere!
Rant over, great site! Thank you.

May 13, 2009 at 2:58 am
(3) RealNeal says:

The only thing small about Clarence Thomas is his brain — he’s very narrow-minded.

May 13, 2009 at 3:09 am
(4) RealNeal says:

As long as the most basic human instinct is to carry on the species by reproducing, people will choose healthy-looking (i.e., slender and pretty) people to reproduce with or for whatever task is at hand.

May 13, 2009 at 11:29 am
(5) Susan Lee says:

RealNeil makes a very valid point – people start from their most basic instincts. However, the task of being human is in large part overcoming and adapting basic instincts to higher purposes.

As M. Scott Peck pointed out in “The Raod Less Traveled,” it is natural instinct for us to defecate when ever the urge strikes us, but one of the first things we teach our children to do is modify and control that instinct.

We probably cannot control who we are attracted to; however, there is no reason that should play a role in selecting legal leadership.

May 13, 2009 at 1:39 pm
(6) Tonyia says:

Ironic that the email with this article was sponsored by an ad for a weight loss product.

May 14, 2010 at 4:52 am
(7) No Fat Judges says:

If you can’t control your own appetite and live a healthy lifestyle why would I believe you are bright enough and able to control your emotions enough to be a supreme court judge?

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