BY COURTNEY CHAPPELL
NAPAWF Policy Director
As the Senate prepares to vote on Harriet Miers’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, I begin to think about what the future will hold for my children and grandchildren. I wonder whether the health and safety of young girls will be placed at risk if the government forces them to seek permission from their parents before they are able to access safe and timely abortion services. I wonder if colleges and universities will become less diverse because affirmative action programs that consider race and ethnicity are deemed unconstitutional. And, I wonder whether opportunities for girls in sports and other educational programs will become limited because of restrictions placed on the scope of Title IX. Finally, I think about when women of color, specifically Asian Pacific American (APA) women, will become visible on the highest court of our country.
Over the past decade, controversial issues, such as abortion, privacy rights, affirmative action, immigrants’ rights, and violence against women have come before the Supreme Court. The majority of those cases were resolved by narrow 5-4 decisions, indicating a clear ideological difference between the Justices on many issues of importance to women of color. At the center of many of these decisions was Sandra Day O’Connor, who was often considered the swing voter. For instance, in 2000, in Stenberg v. Carhart, Justice O’Connor joined the majority in a 5-4 opinion that invalidated Nebraska’s partial birth abortion law. She also wrote the 5-4 majority opinion in Grutter v. Bollinger, the affirmative action case that permitted universities to consider race as one factor in the admissions process. Because of Justice O’Connor’s moderate judicial philosophy, her replacement is of particular concern for women of color.
No other Supreme Court in history has issued so many 5-4 decisions. As these issues continue to divide our country, the likelihood that they will return to the Court for resolution is high. Thus, one new conservative Justice could shift the direction of the Court, and threaten the progress that has been made in the area of civil rights, reproductive freedom, and civil liberties. Two new conservative Justices have the power to completely transform our legal landscape in a way that will be disempowering for women of color and communities of color. The stakes have never been higher.
After the nomination and appointment of John Roberts, it was refreshing and right that President Bush nominated a woman to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. With just nine Justices, the Supreme Court should reflect the diversity of our population. Yet, it is disappointing that women of color remain largely absent from the federal bench, including the Supreme Court. Women of color are uniquely situated at the intersection of sex, race, class, immigrant and citizenship status, and sexual orientation, and bring a different perspective to addressing these issues. For so long, however, we have been marginalized at the local and national levels. For instance, APA women, in particular, have been organizing around issues of reproductive choice, violence against women, and trafficking for years, yet their voices are silent and their concerns largely ignored. It is time that our issues are brought back to the center. It is time that we break that silence.
Harriet Miers’s record is limited; her ideology and values virtually unknown. How will she vote on privacy issues? What is her position on Roe v. Wade? What direction would she like the Court to take in the years to come? We must demand that each senator carefully analyze her background to determine if she possesses the appropriate qualities, judicial philosophy, and vision that supports the concerns most relevant to women of color. We must organize and educate our communities about this important vote and the impact of the Supreme Court’s decisions on the every day lives of our mothers, sisters, brothers, and fathers. Then, with the next Supreme Court vacancy, we will be even more engaged, organized, and inspired to demand that the Court is truly representative of our diverse communities.
The Seattle Chapter of NAPAWF is dedicated to forging a grassroots progressive movement for social and economic justice and the political empowerment of Asian and Pacific Islander women and girls. NAPAWF unites our diverse communities through organizing, education, and advocacy. Please check our Seattle Chapter website at www.napawf.org for more information. If you would like to get involved in NAPAWF, send us an email, [email protected] or sign up for our list serve [email protected] to receive up to date information about meetings, events, and postings. Our mailing address is NAPAWF Seattle Chapter P.O. Box 14115, Seattle, WA 98104