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Fredonia Shakespeare Club discusses Women of the Court

Submitted Photo Mary Croxton (left) and Judi Lutz Woods are pictured.

The Fredonia Shakespeare Club met for its sixth regular meeting of the 2016-2017 year at the home of Dr. Minda Rae Amiran. President Judi Lutz Woods presided with 14 members present. President Woods welcomed the club members to the 131st year of our club.

The topic for the year is “Women Artists, Authors, Designers & Entrepreneurs.” President Woods and Mary Croxton presented a joint paper titled “Women of the Court” on behalf of Florence McClelland. Their paper is summarized as follows:

The judicial system has long been used to promote (or deny) civil rights to various groups in the United States, including the rights of women. Cases that are brought before the Supreme Court, the highest federal court in our Nation, are decided on the constitutionality of the issue. As such, the Supreme Court has long been used as one of the primary vehicles on which to establish civil rights to minority groups, including those for women.

For instance, in 1874 the Supreme Court held that women did NOT have the right to vote under the 14th Amendment. Rather, the court ruled that women were in a “special category” of non-voting citizens giving individual states the right to grant or deny women the right to vote. However, 46 years later the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, ensuring women the right to vote in every state in our Union.

The second half of the twentieth century saw an increase in cases brought before the Supreme Court with rulings that expanded and defined more rights specific to women. Some of the rights gained through legal action and/or passing of legislation include: Equal Pay for men and women performing the same job; the use of contraceptives for both married and single individuals; outlaws employers to refuse to hire women with pre-school children; the right to terminate a pregnancy in early stages under the right to privacy; overturns laws that prevented women on juries; sex discrimination in membership of many ‘male only groups’ (such as Jaycees) is forbidden under our Constitution; and housing and credit discrimination of women is outlawed by Congress.

The judicial and legislative branches of government continue to be effective methods to define, promote and ensure the rights of women. These avenues will continue to be used as pathways for increased rights, until we all, male and female, have the same equal rights under our Constitution.

What are the chances of becoming a Supreme Court justice?

In more than 200 years, the Court has had only 108 justices, which comes to about one appointment every two years. The chances are minuscule that a person could become a Supreme Court justice.

Before Sandra Day O’Connor became a justice, the odds were stacked against women. “It is fair to say that the framers of the constitution envisioned no role for American women,” O’Connor said.                                                       “At the time and long after men dominated the public arena of political and commercial activity; women for their part, occupied the private realm of domestic and spiritual life. Women were looked at as subordinate, probably less intelligent, and definitely weaker than men. By law, wives could not hold, purchase, control, bequeath, or convey property, retain their own wages, make contracts, or bring  legal action. Married women’s domesticity became a source of patriotism as the home was equated with a nursery of citizenship,” O’Connor said.

Early on and for many years; law schools and, medical schools used any excuse not to admit women. They justified their ban on women by their alleged inability to afford separate rest rooms.

Sandra Day O’Connor writes, “There are many reasons that women acquire power and positions slowly. A paucity of women in positions of power creates a vicious cycle. When women are grossly under-represented in government, in the law and in the corporate boardroom, other women are less likely to believe that they belong in positions of power. For years our society’s sexism fed on itself, and the powerlessness of women became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because women were denied power for so long, it was hard to break the barriers.”

What were the barriers for our Supreme Court associates? Croxton thinks for Sandra Day O’Connor, it was being a woman first of all. Sandra Day O’Connor was nominated by President Reagan as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.  She took the oath of office on Sept. 25, 1981, the first women to do so.

Justice Ginsburg attended Cornell, Harvard and Columbia University Law Schools. At Columbia, she graduated tied for first. She is a leading advocate in the Supreme Court for gender equality. President Clinton in 1993 nominated her for the Supreme Court. She still holds that position.

While everyone faces challenges in their childhood, Sonja Sotomayor faced obstacles far greater than most.  She lived in poverty, had a chronic illness, and  had a father who died when she was young.  She was nominated  by President Barack Obama to the Supreme Court.

Dr. Amiran called the members to tea where Nicki Schoenl assisted at the tea table.

The next meeting of the Club will be held on Thursday, Dec. 1 at the home of Mary Jane Covley Walker, where Dr. Amiran will present a paper “Mary Wollstonecraft.”

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