HomeLearning CenterWeekend Reading on Women’s Representation: SCOTUS Is ‘Making History for the Wrong Reasons’; America Had More than One Founding

Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation: SCOTUS Is ‘Making History for the Wrong Reasons’; America Had More than One Founding

Originally Published by Cynthia Richie Terrell and RepresentWomen for Ms. Magazine

This week’s celebration of the 247th anniversary of the ratification of the Declaration of Independence is a reminder that the United States was founded on the idea that political power comes from the people, not a monarch. While this idea was revolutionary in 1776, the majority of people living in the fledgling nation had little to no say in government—despite Abigail Adams’ plea to “remember the ladies.” 

RepresentWomen imagines a democracy where everyone has a seat at the decision-making table. This week’s Weekend Reading features stories about American democracy and the strategies necessary to realize John Adams’ dream of government being a “portrait of the people in miniature.”

The United States’ Journey to an Inclusive Democracy

While picnics and fireworks have become a time-honored tradition, they can distract us from the exclusionary origins of the holiday. “We the People” originally only applied to privileged white men. While Black men, women and people of color eventually earned the right to vote, women and other marginalized constituencies continue to face structural barriers as candidates and as elected officials. Systemic changes like implementing ranked-choice voting and gender quotas are proven ways to increase reflective representation in government. 

In 1971 “We the People” again expanded to include younger people, with the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18. The ongoing Vietnam War shifted public opinion, and there was popular support for the idea that someone old enough to die fighting for their country should also be able to vote.

A government once described by Abraham Lincoln as “of the people, by the people, and for the people” was now going to technically include all of the people.

But equality for women, young people, and racially marginalized groups did not change overnight.

Social equality remains far off for many people, including undocumented immigrants, for example, and LGBTQ+ individuals…

Voting is not the only form of recognition and participation in a democracy. People can be respected at work, paid what they are worth, and treated with dignity. Community members can be treated fairly by police, school officials, and other authorities, given an equal opportunity for justice and education to improve their lives.

People can also contribute to the social and economic well-being of a democracy in ways other than voting, doing everything from planting a tree in a public park to attending a political rally.

But the overall expansion of voting rights and a historical understanding of “We the People” shows that everyone belongs in a democratic society, regardless of wealth, achievement, or other differences.

The Supreme Court Is ‘Making History for the Wrong Reasons’

This term, the Supreme Court has made decisions that confirm that we are in an era of democratic backsliding. However, as with our voting systems, reforms exist that would create a more responsive and accountable Supreme Court. These include implementing a code of ethics and expanding the number of sitting justices. 

Congress has the power to reform the Supreme Court, and we have the power to reform Congress. It all begins with changing our voting systems to enable candidates that represent us to run, win, serve and lead.

“The courts, if they were to proceed without any check on their power, without any balance on their power, then we will start to see an undemocratic and, frankly, dangerous authoritarian expansion of power in the Supreme Court,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In ending federal abortion rights last year, and landing a blow to LGBTQ protections in a decision out Friday, the court is signaling “a dangerous creep toward authoritarianism,” she said.

“They continue to overturn the will of the majority of the people and to make history for all the wrong reasons, legislating from the bench and being political from the bench,” Pressley said during an interview on MSNBC’s “The Katie Phang Show.” “It is nothing but intersectional oppression,” she added.

Women’s Interest in Entering Politics Surged After Dobbs. So Why Aren’t They Running?

Despite increased interest in running—and numerous organizations recruiting and training women candidates to get involved in politics—the number of women candidates filing to run for office is lower than in recent years. According to this article in The Hill systemic barriers may be impacting the number of women running: 

Organizations that recruit progressive candidates and train women to run for office say interest swelled in their programs in the immediate aftermath. But, so far, few have gone on to actually seek office.

Emerge, a campaign training outfit for Democratic women, said interest in their programs more than doubled after Dobbs. Traffic to their website spiked — 28,000 unique visitors that month, compared to less than 10,000 before — applications to their next training bootcamp went from less than 50 to over 100, and interest has remained elevated since, said Emerge President A’Shanti Gholar. “We actually started to see the uptick the moment the draft opinion leaked,” she said.

Run for Something, a group that recruits and teaches young progressives of all genders how to run, also reported an immediate Dobbs effect. Before the decision, the group would get around 250 people a week signing up for information about their training programs; in the three days after, 1,200 people signed up. Signups roughly doubled in the month after Dobbs, from 2,182 to around 4,700. 

She Should Run, a nonpartisan group that encourages women to consider seeking political office, similarly said that their webinars focused on reproductive health have drawn more attendees. But a year later, those preliminary steps haven’t translated into a surge of women candidates.

EMILY’s List, which supports Democratic women who back abortion rights, said interest in its “run for” programs targeted at state and local offices increased after Dobbs, and that other programs created in response to the decision have drawn large crowds. But when asked for figures to compare before and after the decision, a spokeswoman said they were unavailable…

That matches preliminary data compiled by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, which is tracking whether Dobbs will spur more women into the running. “It’s a little early to tell, but there are some telltale signs that don’t support that,” said CAWP Director Debbie Walsh.

Thus far, there are fewer women running for Congress in 2024 compared to this point in recent past election cycles. CAWP tallies the number of potential and declared women candidates (including incumbents) and, as of Tuesday, they count 241 likely candidates for 2024. That’s a big drop off from 347 women who ran in the 2022 midterms as of July 7, 2021…

So the indications that fewer women may be running even as Dobbs boosts other forms of engagement is a bit of a mystery to researchers who study female political participation. It’s not political apathy; women have outvoted men for decades. Women made up around 52 percent of voters in last year’s midterms, but just 28 percent of members in the current Congress. Still, that total — 153 women out of 540 voting and nonvoting members at the start of the 118th Congress — is a record and 59 percent more than a decade earlier.

Much of that increase can be attributed to waves of Democratic women who launched campaigns and won, starting in 2018, shocked by Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump in 2016 — even after his infamous “Access Hollywood” tapes leaked. A similar “Year of the Woman” came in 1992, after they watched an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee defend Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas against sexual harassment allegations at his televised confirmation hearings. The number of Republican women in Congress has also grown but more slowly and steadily, without the large upswings found on the left.

In those cases, Democratic women were spurred into running after they saw a lack of female representation amid objectionable political developments, said Occidental College political scientist Jennifer Piscopociting a recent paper she co-authored with Amanda Clayton at Vanderbilt University and Diana O’Brien at. Washington University in St. Louis.

The preliminary evidence that lots of Democratic women looked into running but haven’t yet jumped into a race, suggests they might be tapped out, Piscopo said. “The Democratic women that are likely to be mobilized by this sense of threat — this sense of feeling like you need to get in there and make the difference — they might already be there [in office],” she said. “There might not have been too many more women for Dobbs to really move or push over the edge.”

Unlike many male politicians, who tend to think of running for office as a career choice — an eventuality that they plan their lives around years in advance — most women need to be prodded, Piscopo said. “It really is this situational moment. And the situation that we focus on in our study is this sense of exclusion [from political decision-making] and policy threat, but there’s going to be other situational factors, right? Is it the right time for my family? Is it the right time for my children? Do we have the money to do this?”

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