Can You Provide a Definition for the Word ‘Woman?’
‘I’m not a biologist,’ said Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson when asked at her Supreme Court confirmation hearing the meaning of ‘woman’
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, at the inquiry of Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said that she was unable to provide a definition for the word “woman” during Tuesday’s Supreme Court nomination hearings.
“I can’t. Not in this context,” Jackson said. “I’m not a biologist.”
The response came at the end of a series of related questions from Blackburn, who began with addressing a 1996 case, United States v. Virginia, in which the Supreme Court denied the Virginia Military Institute’s policy of male-only admission. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion of the court, from which Blackburn quoted the point that “[p]hysical differences between men and women, however, are enduring: ‘[T]he two sexes are not fungible; a community made up exclusively of one [sex] is different from a community composed of both.”
“Do you agree with Justice Ginsburg: that there are physical differences between men and women that are enduring?” Blackburn asked. Jackson replied that she was unfamiliar with the particular quote and case.
“Do you interpret Justice Ginsburg’s meaning of ‘men and women’ as ‘male and female?’”
Jackson again declined to respond. “Because I don’t know the case, I don’t know how I interpret it.”
That’s when Blackburn asked the question, and Jackson explained that she couldn’t define the word “woman.”
Jackson’s response rings out amid relevant, tense interactions between professional and collegiate female athletes and transgender athletes entering the field. Swimmer Lia Thomas is the most recent athlete, competing for the University of Pennsylvania, to face headlines and criticism from teammates, parents and media. Swimmers sharing their uncomfortable experiences with Thomas in locker rooms and opinions about the lack of fairness within the competition have also received serious backlash online.
Blackburn, citing the dangers of Jackson’s “progressive education” as the reason the judge didn’t respond, turned the discussion to Thomas and what permitting the swimmer to compete communicates to “girls who aspire to compete and win in sports.”
“Senator, I’m not sure what message that sends. If you’re asking me about the legal issues related to it, those are topics that are being hotly discussed, as you say, and could come to the court,” Jackson replied.
“I think it tells our girls that their voices don’t matter. I think it tells them that they’re second-class citizens,” Blackburn said, interrupting the nominee. “And parents want to have a Supreme Court justice who is committed to preserving parental autonomy and protecting our nation’s children.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes a clear distinction between man and woman and their identities as such.
“Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. In their ‘being-man’ and ‘being-woman,’ they reflect the Creator’s wisdom and goodness” (369).
Pope St. John Paul II’s “Letter to Women” addresses women’s distinctly feminine attributes and qualities and spends most of the letter thanking them in their different roles:
This word of thanks to the Lord for his mysterious plan regarding the vocation and mission of women in the world is at the same time a concrete and direct word of thanks to women, to every woman, for all that they represent in the life of humanity.