Saturday, May 30, 2009

Brief Comments on Sotomayor

It's all the rage for the moment in the news media to be reporting on everyone's comments about Obama's Supreme Court nominee. Obviously the members of the Supreme Court have a large impact on the lives of everyone in the US, as they literally decide how free the country is going to be, what rights people will be allowed to have (of those enumerated in the Constitution, and/or other ones they make up), when and how the government's abuses of power will be checked, etc. This, along with the lifetime appointment term, always makes the selection of new justices a political hot-button issue, and the nomination choices thus very important political moves.

Now, I think the appointment of Sotomayor is more or less a foregone conclusion; Obama has made a good pick. Not good in the judicial sense (although not that bad either), but astute in the sense that Republicans would lose support of minority voters by opposing her too strenuously. The pick also takes advantage of the popular simple-minded perception that anyone who disagrees with the politics of a minority politician is doing so because of bias against the person or partisan politics, not because of legitimate issues; a perception Obama himself has used notably to his advantage.

However, I do have to make one comment, which will no doubt land me in the above category in the minds of simpletons, but needs to be said anyway because of the obviously irony, and bearing on Sotomayor as a future Supreme Court Justice. To wit:

Racit: someone who thinks someone is more or less qualified for something which has nothing to do with their race, purely based on their race
Sexist: same as above, but for gender
Sotomayor: [condensed for ease of making a point] "A female Latina judge would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male..."

Oh, and one more comment (I did say comments, right?). Sotomayor ruled in her current appeals court that, unlike most of the other rights enumerated in the Bill of Right, the right conveyed by the 2nd amendment does not count as a fundamental right, and is not important enough to be included under the 14th amendment's extension of all rights to all citizens of the US (ie: the states can take that right away from you). It would be interesting to hear her justification on who made the call that the 2nd amendment right is less fundamental than, say, the 19th amendment; and if states can take away the 2nd amendment right, how about the 19th too, or maybe the 13th? Scary stuff, regardless of what you think about people having guns.


  1. I wasn't sure if I was gonna post about this because this topic makes me mad to the point of losing objectivity.

    The media fails to use the whole quote and doesn't bother to place the context of the quote.

    The full quote is "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."

    And she said this at an event at UC Berkley called "Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence in the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation."

    Right off the bat, simple logic woudl dictate that this conversation is going to be about race....

    Her quote does not mean that she would make better decisions than a white judge. It simply means that having grown up in the South Bronx (not a neighborhood you'd want to aimlessly walk around in), she could empathize with a person in a case better than a white man from the suburbs in Virginia. This is just plain fact.

    What's the difference betwen her quote and this:

    I would hope that a wise Latina woman with a prosthetic arm would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who has both arms in tact" at a conference about being handicapped in America?

    Judges are human. To think they make robotic decisions based on solely on constituional merit is wholly unrealistic. If that there the case, there would be no liberal leanign or conservative leaning appointees right? Couple this with the fact that Sotomayor typically votes more *conservatively* and its clear that that they are picking this battle for the sake of fighting, not because of any real issue (but what else is new?)

  2. **edit**

    "at a conference about being handicapped in urban America?

  3. A couple of points in response:

    I was aware that her comments were made at an event which was about race. It's often the rationale given for otherwise "inflammatory" statements that the speaker was at an event which was promoting a particular viewpoint, and thus was shading their comments toward that viewpoint. However, the simple point remains: the comment was made, there's no reason to believe it was not sincere (other people have suggested that she misspoke, but not that she meant anything different), and it's racist. I'm not taking a position on how well the comment played at the time, or how good/bad it is to have a racist on the Supreme Court; I'm just noting the facts.

    If she had said/meant that she could empathize better with people who have had a hard background, that would be easy to understand, and much less inflammatory; but that's not what she said, and (in my opinion) that's not what she meant. Judges certainly do make somewhat subjective judgments, and that's why it's important to understand the character and thoughts of the people appointed to the highest courts. I think this is an important point about her character for people to consider, regardless of if they think the racism was contextually appropriate, or beneficial to her judgment.

  4. I see where you're coming from Nick, but I still strongly disagree that her comment was racist. Is there somewhat of a double standard when it comes to racially sensitive remarks? Well yes, if you consider that most every race in America has at one point or another had their civil and human rights revoked at the hands of white people. So if a White person said what she said, yes that may be considered racist because it is not only racially insensitive, it is also historically insensitive. If John Roberts said "I would hope that a wise White man, with the richness of his experience (for arguments sake the south Bronx) would reach a better conclusion than a latina who hasn't lived that life (she lived in an affluent suburbs)," I would argue that he is also probably right because he would be more empathetic to issues affecting the urban class, but given the racial history of bigotry and segregation, and Jim Crow Era mores, such a comment would evoke lots of anger amongst minorities. We have to place Sotomayor's comment in context of the event, a celebration of the acheivement and struggles of Latino/Latina judges, and also in historical context.

    In the end, the people who are calling foul are mainly doing so because it is their best political weapon to poo poo a candidate with a stellar record, not because they truly, genuinely offended by the comment.

  5. It would be like a white male judge saying "I would think that a wise white male, with the wealth of personal experience growing up among the educated elite and having regular scholarly conversations with them, would more often reach a better conclusion than a Latina female from the inner city." Is that statement racist? Sexist? Accurate? Any more valid than what Sotomayor said?

    I personally don't see any reason, a priori, to say that either one of those backgrounds would produce someone who would make better decisions; they might make different decisions owing to their different backgrounds, but to classify one as "better" than the other implies a conscious or subconscious opinion that one race/gender/background combination would produce a judge which is better than one produced by the other. That's not something a personally agree with, but obviously not everyone, and certainly not Sotomayor, shares my opinion.

    ... and yes, I think the issue is being blown out-of-proportion somewhat by her opponents. There are many examples of racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, large and small, in our politicians, officials, and judges, and everyone has their own personal biases and opinions based on their experiences (myself included). In the greater scope, it's not like a minor bias against white males is that big of a deal; it's not like she's taking away fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution from people or anything (which is a really big worry with the Supreme Court)...