Sotormayor fracas tells us more about Republicans these days
It's rather frustrating to see all the vitriol and racism charges being bandied back and forth regarding Judge Sonia Sotmayor. I have to say, however, that Fred Barnes wins the award for most racist comment, while G. Gordon Liddy wins the sexist award.
But let's do something most commentators are not willing to do, which is to let Judge Sotomayor defend herself with her own words and context of her now infamous remarks about a Latina judge compared to a white male judge (hat tip to Brad Delong on this one):
In our private conversations, Judge Cedarbaum has pointed out to me that seminal decisions in race and sex discrimination cases have come from Supreme Courts composed exclusively of white males. I agree that this is significant but I also choose to emphasize that the people who argued those cases before the Supreme Court which changed the legal landscape ultimately were largely people of color and women. I recall that Justice Thurgood Marshall, Judge Connie Baker Motley, the first black woman appointed to the federal bench, and others of the NAACP argued Brown v. Board of Education. Similarly, Justice Ginsburg, with other women attorneys, was instrumental in advocating and convincing the Court that equality of work required equality in terms and conditions of employment.
Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.
Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.
However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.
It's not perfect, but now it's at least understandable. Justices Holmes and Cardozo were great jurists, but they had problems seeing their way past the official racism of their time. And let's recall the still recent opinion from Justice Roberts where he showed a glib and ignorant perspective regarding the pockets and subtleties of racism that continues to exist in our society (though our strides toward ridding our nation of racism have been outstanding compared to most other societies on the planet). The last paragraph of Sotomayor's speech brings her back to universal sensibilities, with a subtle understanding that her experience has some relevance.
I have to say I was not favorably dispossed toward Sotomayor, figuring Sotomayor was more like Ginsburg and Breyer, i.e., corporate Democrats who simply see cultural issues as the challenge in this world, and who wouldn't understand the feelings of a labor union organizer even if they had a "Freaky Friday" experience.
I think, however, my initial gut on Sotomayor is wrong. Here is an enlightening article from the NY Times about Sotomayor's ruling in the baseball strike case from 1994. That was a wise decision, especially for a Yankees fan.(:-) But does she understand what it's like to be a Cubs' fan?).
And here is a summary of Sotomayor's decision protecting homeless people from being exploited by a downtown business group. The homeless were getting $1 an hour to do clean up in the neighborhood.
So count me in as a supporter of Judge Sotomayor for the US Supreme Court. I know, I know, her temper may not be so great, but the way Roberts has acted along with Scalia and Thomas, maybe some hot blooded personality on the so-called liberal side is needed. Still, I pine for a William Brennan, who was a peacemaker above all else...