On a winter Thursday morning in 1970, Patsy Takemoto Mink came before the Senate for its hearing on the Supreme Court nominee George Harrold Carswell.
The first witness to oppose Carswell’s nomination, Mink told the panel, “I am here to testify against his confirmation on the grounds that his appointment constitutes an affront to the women of America.”
Her testimony—which was followed by Betty Friedan, the author of The Feminine Mystique—would mark the beginning of a groundswell of opposition against Carswell, a southern judge and President Richard Nixon’s second attempt to appoint a Supreme Court justice (the first being Clement Haynsworth). As it happened, Nixon’s third nominee for the seat was Harry Blackmun, a midwestern Republican, who went on to write the Supreme Court’s majority opinion three years later in Roe v. Wade.
And so it seems appropriate, 16 years after Mink’s death, to look back on her role in opposing Carswell and on her trailblazing career, with Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination pending before the Senate and with it, quite possibly, the fate of Roe v. Wade. And there’s a twist to the Democratic opposition to Kavanaugh that brings Mink very much to mind.
Mink, the first nonwhite and Asian American woman elected to Congress in 1964, knew discrimination against women firsthand. A Japanese American Democratic representative from Hawaii, she was one of only about a dozen women serving in Congress at the time, and a rare female attorney. She had been admitted as one of two women in her class at the University of Chicago because the university had made a mistake, accepting her as a “foreign” student because she was from Hawaii, then a territory of the United States. After graduating, she opened her own law office in Honolulu because no law firms would hire her; they advised her to stay home with her young daughter instead.