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California High Court Needs Female Perspective

February 05, 1989|JANICE KAMENIR-REZNIK | Janice Kamenir-Reznik, an attorney in Sherman Oaks, is president of California Women Lawyers, a statewide women lawyers organization

The vacancy on the California Supreme Court caused by Justice John A. Arguelles' pending retirement has sparked concern among many Californians relative to the lack of female presence on the state's highest court. Gov. Deukmejian is well aware of this concern--he has placed two women on the list of four final candidates he is considering to fill this vacancy. Female representation on the California Supreme Court is important because of power that is endemic to that institution.

The California Supreme Court's power is not merely an issue of academic concern, and its opinions are important not only to the community of lawyers, judges and legal scholars. Rather, the impact of the court's opinions reaches to the grass roots and, indeed, governs each of our lives on a daily basis. The court's holdings affect blacks, Latinos, Asians and whites; the rulings affect the young, the middle-aged and the old; the law governs the behavior of men and women.

Few would disagree that the court should be sensitive to the varying needs and experiences of all of the diverse groups that make up the society governed by its laws. When one of the so-called minorities to be governed--namely, women--constitutes more than 50% of the state's population, there exists the fair expectation for participation in the governing and decision-making process. And such participation is fundamental both to the integration of women into society and for the very integration of society itself. Moreover, participation by women in government, at all levels, is the only manner to ensure women's equality in society.

Men and women are different. The differences are not only a biological axiom; the important differences between men and women emanate from sociological and environmental factors. While we might strive to eliminate these sociologically and environmentally caused sex differences, they exist. When a baby girl is born, the nurses place her in a pink bassinet. Generally, as the child matures, girls practice ballet or gymnastics while boys play football and basketball.

The color of a baby's bassinet or the particular physical activity in which a child is engaged may appear to be insignificant issues. However, for better or worse, boys and girls are treated differently, and they carry these differences with them as they mature into adulthood.

The perspective of a woman, whatever her particular political outlook, will be different from the perspective of a man, just as the perspective of a black will be different from the perspective of a white, or the perspective of a Jew will be different from that of a Christian or Muslim.

Why is it important that this difference of perspective be represented on the state's highest court? Because the opinions of a court that has been exposed to discussion and debate in which people of differing backgrounds and perspectives have participated will be more likely to interpret the law in a manner that is more compassionate, sensitive and fair.

The reason for seeking female appointments to the state Supreme Court is not to promote one political or social ideology over another. Sandra Day O'Connor's appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court was applauded by women and men alike, and not because of O'Connor's position on various issues of the day. Indeed, women come in all political flavors.

The notion of "diversification of the bench" is a principle that seeks to ensure that the perspective of individuals who are not white males will be considered by the decision-makers. The only way to guarantee the enactment of that principle is to add women and minorities to the court. Currently California Women Lawyers is advocating the appointment of one female to the state Supreme Court. It is with a sense of enthusiasm and optimism that we can look forward to the day when all of our courts are reflective of the society that they serve.

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