The lone Republican woman on the committee for this week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings was Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, and she was sure carrying a lot of water for her party and the conservative white patriarchy at large.
It was a historic occasion, with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson set to be the first Black woman ever to serve on the nation’s highest court. Republicans don’t have the votes to block her confirmation, but that wasn’t going to stop them from airing their grievances—especially considering that there are midterm elections this fall.
And whether the GOP orchestrated it or not, Blackburn perfectly played the role of the victimized, suburban white woman whose biggest concerns in life are not the still-raging pandemic that’s killed close to 1 million Americans, the record inflation that’s making it harder to pay their bills, or the raging humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. No, her top concerns are that schools are teaching kids about systemic racism, that trans women exist and play sports, and that the federal government hasn’t yet granted more rights to embryos than the people carrying them.
After Blackburn gave a truly vile speech on Monday where she highlighted all of these culture war hits and more, she ramped up the grievance in her questioning on Tuesday and Wednesday. She complained that Judge Jackson, while working in private practice, called anti-abortion women “noisy, hostile,” and “in your face” in a legal filing and asked Jackson: “How do you justify that incendiary rhetoric against pro-life women?”
Jackson explained that this description was specific to protestors outside an abortion clinic in Massachusetts in a First Amendment case. But Blackburn doubled down, saying she was concerned about the language used and worried that Jackson thought ill of people like poor little Marsha: “When you go to church and, knowing there are pro-life women there, do you look at them, thinking of them in that way—that they’re noisy, hostile, in your face? Do you think of pro-life women like me that way?” Get a grip, wealthy woman with a massive platform currently sitting on the U.S. Senate.
Blackburn also expressed grievance with the fact that “woman” doesn’t just apply to people born with a vagina. “Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman?’” she asked.
Jackson responded, “I can’t. Not in this context, I’m not a biologist,” before Blackburn went on a diatribe about the trans swimmer who competed in the NCAA championships last week. “I think it tells our girls that their voices don’t matter. I think it tells them that they’re second-class citizens,” she said. “Parents want to have a Supreme Court justice who is committed to preserving parental autonomy and protecting our nation’s children.”
As New York Magazine correspondent Irin Carmon wrote on Monday, “[Republicans] saved the shiv for the honeyed tones of a Southern white woman invoking the children.”
In a shining example of how white women help uphold white patriarchy (indeed, the patriarchy has no gender), Blackburn weaponized her womanhood to pose that question so that Republican men could then seize on it to spread their gender-essentialist views. Senator Ted Cruz said to Jackson, “I think you’re the only nominee in history who’s been unable to answer the question ‘what is a woman?’” before taking that same stupid talking point directly to Fox News.
Nevermind that Jackson is likely the first Supreme Court nominee to be asked to define the word “woman” and that it’s a ridiculous question in the first place.
Blackburn continued her conservative dog-whistling on Wednesday night by implying that there are more restrictions on buying a gun than there are on getting an abortion. She wondered that since some people need to get a license in order to buy a gun—even though there’s an explicit right in the Constitution to “bear arms”—“should someone that wants an abortion have to go before a government bureaucrat?” Blackburn seems to forget that, thanks to parental involvement laws, lots of people under 18 already do have to go before a government bureaucrat to access the health care procedure. But gun enthusiasts are the real victims here.
Then she tweeted this doozy during her questioning last night:
People were more than thrilled to point out Blackburn’s mistake that it’s the Declaration of Independence that grants those rights; but even so, her attention-seeking tweet was meant to brush aside the fact that for many people, access to abortion is literally freedom: freedom to continue their education, freedom from (further) poverty, freedom from medical complications, freedom from an abusive partner, freedom from established gender roles.
At the 2020 confirmation hearings of now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett, Blackburn said liberals opposing Barrett “do not believe that all women deserve to have the opportunity to have a seat at the table. It’s only certain women.” It’s ironic to re-read her comment this week, when Blackburn made plain that she, too, thinks only certain women should be elevated—those who are anti-abortion, pro-gun, and pro-biological sex.
Blackburn said twice this week that “biological women” are being treated like second-class citizens. She’s right that women aren’t treated equal compared to cisgender men, and that’s in large part thanks to white women like her who see women as wives and mothers first, before anything else.