With her confirmation to the second highest court in the nation very early Thursday morning, Judge Nina Pillard should immediately rocket to the top of the Democratic shortlist of potential nominees to the Supreme Court. Though there are a number of Democratic judges who possess the youth, brilliance and legal credentials required from a new Supreme Court justice, Pillard brings something to the bench that is quite rare among judges — she’s won two of the most important civil rights victories to reach the Supreme Court during her career.
Pillard was a member of the legal team in United States v. Virginia, which eliminated the Virginia Military Institute’s discriminatory policies against women and cemented the rule that no law may engage in gender discrimination unless there is an “exceedingly persuasive justification” for doing so. Seven years later, Pillard argued and won Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs, an important case helping women (and men) with families to have a fair opportunity to participate in the workplace. (We could say many other things about Pillard’s record, but rather than repeat ourselves, please see our previous coverage here and here.)
Indeed, it likely that there is only one other judge currently on the bench who accomplished as much as a litigator for women’s rights as Judge Pillard did in her career as an attorney — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Yet, while judges like Pillard and Ginsburg are rare right now, they don’t have to be much longer now that the filibuster no longer gives the Senate minority a veto power over judicial nominees. Nor is there a shortage of eminent attorneys — Pam Karlan, Paul Smith, Debo Adegbile — who have fought and often won major victories for gay rights, voting rights, racial justice and other important civil rights. The tragedy of Pillard and Ginsburg is that there does not need to be so few of them.