Sunday, May 31, 2009

Not Suprised and Yet Surprised: How the Conservatives are Attacking Sonia Sotomayor

Of course, I knew the Republicans were going to fight whatever nominee President Obama selected to fill the opening on the U.S. Supreme Court. However, when President Obama selected Judge Sonia Sotomayor, I have been surprised at what they have attacked the most: one sentence uttered by the judge during a speech she gave to the La Raza group at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law in 2001:

"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."
This has led to conservative spokespeople Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich calling her a "new racist" and "reverse racist" -- laughably non-existent terms they have just made up. It is wrong on so many levels, but I am going to try and capture all of my swirling thoughts on the rich (and disgusting) irony of this.

First, the quote often referenced has been taken completely out of context. Read the whole speech here. It is a thoughtful rumination on what it means to be Latina in the judiciary system and how varied backgrounds, no matter how impartial we aspire to be, shape our lives and opinions and, yes, judgments. Seriously, read it. Here is just a bit more of the speech that is way more illuminating in how Judge Sotomayor thinks:
Each day on the bench I learn something new about the judicial process and about being a professional Latina woman in a world that sometimes looks at me with suspicion. I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations. I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.
OK, second. Take a look at these quote and just guess who said them:
"Because when a case comes before me involving, let’s say, someone who is an immigrant — and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases — I can’t help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn’t that long ago when they were in that position. [...]

And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account."
"I believe, Senator, that I can make a contribution, that I can bring something different to the Court, that I can walk in the shoes of the people who are affected by what the Court does."
The first quote is from Samuel Alito during his confirmation hearing and the second is from Clarence Thomas. So apparently, it is OK for conservatives to make reference to how a diverse background can make them a better choice. I don't remember anyone calling Thomas or Alito racist, do you?

Third, it is so ironic for Rush Limbaugh to call anyone racist. It's like a pot calling not the kettle, but snow, black. Check out some of these Rush Limbaugh horribly racist quotes. Things he has actually said to his radio audience. It's absolutely disgusting.

And finally, let's please acknowledge that yes, diversity is something to be valued. Over the entire history of the U.S. Supreme Court, 106 of the 110 justices have been white males. Two have been women, and two have been African-American men. Here is a great summary of how no matter how much a white male may try to understand what a woman or person of color goes through, they can't fully appreciate it: red stapler: Sotomayor and Latina vision So yes, bringing different backgrounds and experiences can only enhance the Court.

Sonia Sotomayor is intelligent and qualified for the Court. The funny part is that I wish President Obama had chosen someone more obviously liberal. He picked a moderate, but the Republicans just can't seem to accept the fact that they are out of power. Do they even realize how much they are turning off much of the electorate? Don't they remember how they were supposed to be appealing to Hispanics and women? They are digging themselves deeper and deeper and for what? From all indications, Sonia Sotomayor will be easily confirmed. However, I don't think the Republicans will be able to easily overcome the image of grey-haired white men having the audacity to call this strong, accomplished Latina woman racist.

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