February 10, 2017 — We’ve had a buzzworthy couple of weeks. Between the new administration’s executive orders and cabinet nominations, there’s no shortage of law-related topics I could write about. But this week, I’ve been inspired by the events surrounding Sen. Elizabeth Warren to research the history of women in the U.S Senate.
In case you missed it (but I’ll bet you didn’t), as the Senate debated the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions to be the next Attorney General, Sen. Elizabeth Warren began reading a letter from Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King Jr., written in 1986 to oppose Sessions' nomination as a federal judge. The House Leader silenced both Scott King and Warren, using an ancient rule established 115 years ago; she was asked to take a seat.
“She was warned. She was given an explanation,” McConnell said afterward. “Nevertheless, she persisted." Well, that she did. Warren took the matter to social media and read the whole letter during a Facebook Live.
The rule that applied, in this case, prevents senators to speak ill or to impugn fellow senators, however, what it means to break this rule can be extremely subjective. After all, Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders read the letter above in full after Warren was silenced.
Since 1932, when the first female senator was elected, their contributions have been related to “women's issues” like reproductive rights, equal pay, and education. Still, women's presence in the Senate is scarce; it has grown gradually but not consistently. This was caused by the lack of female representation in society, considering that women couldn't vote until the ratification of the 19th amendment to the Constitution in 1920, and the public perception of gender roles. To date, 50 women have served in the Senate, and currently, the 115th Congress has 21 women in the seats, 15 Democrats, and 6 Republicans, this the highest number of female senators in the history of the U.S.
Women in the Senate have made a significant impact. For example, Sen. Wendy Davis held the Senate floor for 11 hours to filibuster a law that included stiff restrictions regarding abortion. She also filibustered a bill that cut funding for public schools. Also, Republican Sen. Deb Fisher is unveiling two bills regarding equal pay and paid parental leave. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton co- sponsored 74 bills that became laws, prioritizing health-related subjects.
This election cycle, two seats changed hands from Republican to Democrat, and both elected women, Sen. Tammy Duckworth and Sen. Maggie Hassan. To this day women electors are more prone to donate to a candidate than men, and, there's a closing gap in political ambition: more women want to run for office than ever before, according to Time Magazine.
I guess Sen. McConnell's phrase was adequate, "Nevertheless, she persisted" can be a beacon for women who want a seat in the Senate and we shall see the change they can bring. Women are statistically more collaborative than men, which gives them an advantage when it comes to politics and makes them more effective legislators and God knows we need them now.
Views are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Rocket Lawyer.
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