Why Ketanji Brown Jackson Enrages Republicans
It's because she is living proof that conservative policies don't produce gender or racial equality
Congratulations, Judge Jackson, for making it through two days of payback for Democrats exposing Brett Kavanaugh’s past as a sexual predator. If you know someone who would be interested in this post, please
After watching the Republican performance during the first two days of Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court hearings, the best I can say is, to paraphrase 1960s TV host Art Linkletter, Republicans say the darndest things.
But you have to ask: why do Republicans so hate having a Black woman in that chair? Was it just because she was a Democratic nominee—or is it something else?
One of the core principles of contemporary conservatism today is that identity—race, gender, sexuality—should neither entitle anyone to rights nor imprison them in an ideology. Identity, conservatives argue, is something that liberals use to create constituencies around “special rights” rather than human rights. They insist that everyone is the same, has the same history, and has the same opportunities, even though that is demonstrably untrue in the United States.
Such views have a long political history, dating back to the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1981. As conservative women in the Reagan administration argued, women were already equal, and the law only required a tweak here or there to ratify an already existing situation. If states and localities voluntarily explored their own laws for gender discrimination, altering all statutes to apply to men and women equally, federal intervention would be unnecessary. In this way, all men and women would be free to self-actualize without being constrained, or assisted, by the state.
Thus was born the 50 States Project. Established in May 1981 and inaugurated that October at a one-day White House conference where representatives from all fifty governor’s offices met to discuss the legal and policy ramifications of the status of women, it promoted a conservative solution to a social issue that had galvanized and revived left and liberal feminist activism for over a decade.
The White House activated this women’s network, which had killed the ERA, to lobby state legislatures to eliminate any reference to gender from the law. “Following the conference,” a 1982 report noted, “mailings were sent to all women elected officials throughout the country; to all members of the state and territory legislatures; and [to] Presidents of Federated Republican Women’s Clubs.”
Significantly, by running the initiative out of the West Wing’s Office for Intergovernmental Affairs, rather than Elizabeth Dole’s Office of Public Liaison, the Reagan administration signaled that gender equality was not even a women’s issue but a matter of state governance. “It cannot be overemphasized that this is truly a state-level project, “the press release concluded; “one to be planned and implemented by the Governor and the state legislature – with whatever encouragement, advice, or assistance the White House can provide.”
Yet, when the project languished, the White House eventually transferred it to Dole in June 1982, who had actually supported the ERA in North Carolina and subsequently disavowed that support to pursue her career in Ronald Reagan’s GOP. On a questionnaire, Dole filled out for the White House press office in 1980, her response to “How do you feel about the ERA? “was: “I have no strong feelings about it one way or another.”
A White House aide wrote in the margin: “NO – negative. Clean up.”
Dole framed the 50 States Project as state-level reforms that should have made the ERA unnecessary. A “voluntary effort,” the Fifty States Project was cooperative, an initiative in which “each state is asked” rather than commanded by a court or a constitutional amendment “to help advance the equality of rights for women.” Governors, Dole argued, would be wise to participate. If discriminatory laws were not remedied, that would be “something that the voters in [a governor’s] state should know about and presumably they will act accordingly,” Dole warned, because “equal rights for women is not a partisan issue, but something all citizens should be concerned about.”
Unsurprisingly, the Fifty States project did not succeed in eliminating barriers to women’s success. But its emphasis on promoting equality without acknowledging gender inequality shaped the conservative landscape we inhabit today.
Perhaps its most significant effect was to create the novel idea that men were potential objects of gender discrimination, which opened the door to the notion that white people are the objects of racial discrimination.
For example, when Jo Lee Norris, tasked by Utah’s Democratic Governor Scott Matheson to examine that state’s laws, delivered her report, she noted that the panel had found a minimum wage law that discriminated against male minors and sexual harassment laws that only protected women.
In Mississippi, a governor-appointed commission made laws addressing sexual crimes gender-neutral, thus creating a whole new set of potential victims: men. Mississippi also proudly reported multiple statutes that extended legal protections to men passes between 1970 and 1981. These included making alimony available to men, regulating the relations of female guardians and male minors; making the “enticement” of males by employers illegal; prohibiting women from verbally abusing men; prohibiting sexual relations between female teachers and male students; making male minors subject to statutory rape laws; prohibiting voyeurism by females; prohibiting the abduction of male minors by women for the purposes of marriage, and made it illegal to fondle a male without permission. Mississippi then passed new legislation that made age of consent laws apply to men, and “rape a crime for both sexes rather than solely a male crime.”
In other words, although the recognition that men suffer from sexual abuse and harassment was not a bad thing, the conservative plan to promote gender equality in Mississippi was to criminalize women.
More importantly, it also made a powerful point: that the law was not to be used to rectify discrimination. So is it any surprise that Ketanji Brown Jackson—the living evidence that Democratic policies actually do produce gender and racial equality—sends today’s Republicans into a frenzy?
The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that alcohol-related deaths rose 26% during the pandemic, which is simultaneously unsurprising (when people are under stress, they drink; when people with a drinking problem drink more, they do more harm) and shocking. “An estimated 29,500 deaths in 2020 were linked to alcohol-associated liver diseases,” writes Lindsey Beaver of the Washington Post, “such as cirrhosis; more than 15,000 to alcohol-related mental and behavioral disorders; and nearly 12,000 to opioid overdose deaths involving alcohol — a more than 40 percent increase from the previous year.” Over 99,000 of these deaths were reported, but as the study points out, this is an undercount because complications of alcohol often do not appear on a death certificate. (March 23, 2022)
As Nicole Lefond reports at Talking Points Memo, the likely outcome of the Supreme Court upholding restrictive abortion bans in Republican-dominated states is that a flood of women will travel to states where they can get abortions. It makes perfect sense. Before 1973, women went to Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Cuba to get the procedure: they also drove for hundreds of miles to doctors who did it illegally. So in Oregon, “a new bill making its way through the state legislature…is designed to allocate about $15 million to the Oregon Reproductive Equity Fund, which will help patients not only pay for the likely out-of-network health care costs for the procedure but also aid in travel and lodging expenses[.].” California is moving a similar bill through the legislature and a second that declares the state a safe haven for trans kids. (March 23, 2022)
When Republicans had a chance to stand behind Volodimir Zelenskyy after Donald Trump tried to blackmail him into manufacturing dirt on then-candidate Joe Biden, they refused to do it. Now they want credit for standing up for Ukrainian independence. As John Nichols of The Nation reminds us, “The political pendulum swings so fast that it is easy to forget what was happening barely two months ago, let alone two years ago. But in late 2019 and early 2020, Ukraine was at the center of a national debate about Trump’s lawless presidency and his political extortion of Zelensky.” (March 18, 2022.)
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