Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Project SCOTUS Justice

Paul Campos collects an array of disturbing comments implying that any female judge appointed to the SCOTUS needs to be appropriately thin. Specifically, appearance (oh, excuse me, "health") is being used to attack Sotomayor and Kagan in favor of Wardlaw and Wood.

There are so many factors that go into choosing your SCOTUS nominee, making it virtually impossible to know whether any particular element played a role. But still: Gag. Kagan and Sotomayor are extremely qualified nominees who would make great justices. It's entirely possible Obama might end up choosing someone else. But it should be based on a real reason.

Also, has anyone looked a Nino lately? So thin and svelte!


Unknown said...

Haven't read the exact comments you mention, but the name of the game for these nominees is longevity; left and right both want a Justice who can stay on the court as long as possible, so they can retire strategically (i.e. when a President fitting their ideology is in office and has the votes in the Senate to appoint a similar Justice). So to the extent weight factors into health concerns its quite logical to factor into the President's decision.

chingona said...

Ha! I was thinking of Scalia before I even got down to your last sentence.

And Joe, I'd point out that Ginsburg is about as tiny as you can be and has had two bouts with cancer, so being thin isn't really the best way to judge the potential longevity of a justice.

matthew c said...


Did you miss this part of the article?

"Based on photographic evidence, Kagan’s and Sotomayor’s 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)."

By contrast, increased mortality risk for an average-height American woman shoots up once weight is lower than 105 lbs. And compared to overweight women, the increased mortality risk per pound underweight is much higher than the same statistic per pound overweight. The main cause here is that frail people do not tend to do as well when they get sick. Having a few extra pounds can actually help the body make it through a bout with a serious illness.

Studies that show overweight as a greater health risk than underweight tend not to control for socioeconomic status, habits like smoking, etc.

Unknown said...

Matthew c, since (like I said) I didn't read the article 'til now, yes I did that part. I was just making a general point, and to expand on it, most everything about these potential nominees gets scrutinized, so it's not like weight would be any different. I'm sure if Scalia was not currently on the Court, and was thought to be a contender today, his weight would be a factor given considerable, er, heft on various message boards and at least a bit of thought by the White House vetting team. (Assume for purposes of this exercise they are convinced Scalia would be a "stealth liberal" and that instead of "plain meaning," his "textualism" seeks to give the words of the Constitution "fair meaning.")

Now, I'm sure there are many damning examples of sexism to be found on this topic on "the internetz," but the general rule that has emerged is "All's fair in love and Supreme Court nominations."

Finally, note that I didn't say that nominees should be underweight instead of overweight. And I didn't say weight was the only factor in health. I just said health was a factor. (Incidentally, that extends beyond mere longevity. It would be no good to have a justice who will survive another decade, but spend most of it in senility.)

Unknown said...

Sorry, one last thing. Maybe the reason Paul Campos finds that we only see these weight concerns voiced w/r/t potential female nominees is that it is widely assumed Obama will nominate a woman. (And I'm not complaining about that because I don't buy into White Male Persecution Bullshit, but it's pretty hard to show that weight concerns are categorically sexist if we don't have overweight male contenders for the nomination. And you can't dance around that by noting Nino's gut because he's already on the court, and obviously won't willingly retire while Obama is President.)

David Schraub said...

Well, we have a corrolary event with the "is Princeton/Yale educated Sonia Sotomayor stupid? We'll hear from a bunch of random anonymous quoters to say ' maybe'" bit going down, which I don't recall occurring with Princeton/Yale educated Samuel Alito.

Though to be fair, that might be a Latino/White thing, rather than a woman/man thing. Or, you know, it could be both.

Unknown said...

I'm sure Sotomayer is quite smart, but I don't think claiming school pedigree is the best way to prove it. I think it's fair to say I've gone to some pretty good schools, and I honestly have still come across a fair share of folks who were just, colloquially speaking, dumb.

To put a finer point on it, G.W. Bush was a Yale/Harvard man.

(Also, as long as we're making Nino gut jokes, my last word verification was pregr.)

David Schraub said...

Groundless speculation about idiocy even in the face of elite credentials, though, seems to somehow uniquely target women and people of color.

Unknown said...

I'm not disputing that, but it's a pretty weak corollary for the weight issue.

PG said...


But no one raised this about male possibilities under Bush. E.g., when people were handicapping possibilities in 2000 comparing possible Bush nominees versus Gore ones, no one said "Kozinski's too much of a lardass to go on the Supreme Court."