The Closet Moderate: The Obligatory Sotomayor Post

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Obligatory Sotomayor Post

Since we are a blog on the internet in May of 2009, we are obliged by the world internet treaty to have a piece on Sonia Sotomayor, Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court. Many of the political aspects of nomination have been discussed by people far more learned and savvy on the topic than I, so I will not try to add to the wisdom in that arena. 

Instead, I'm going to focus my attention somewhere really, really stupid - a famous, out of context quote from the Honorable Judge Sotomayor. This quote is being used to show that Sotomayor is a "reverse racist". This term is used by white power activists, Rush Limbaugh and former lawmakers, to connote a member of a racial minority who is racist toward their would be oppressors. As one of The Tims pointed out, the term might be better applied to Steven Colbert, who doesn't see color, and only knows he's white because he belongs to an all white country club. The term these folks are looking for is "racist", not "reverse racist", but they don't have the stomach for that kind of fight. So, for your edification, and without further ado, the out of context quote:


"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."

Punchy, eh? Now, as I mentioned, the decontextualization may be the real story here, but, honestly, that isn't very interesting to me. What I am interested in is: is this statement true? To hell with the context, is Sotomayor (let's go ahead and assume she is the wise latina here), due to her sex, religion, disability (she's got Type I diabetes) and/or background (raised by immigrants) better qualified (all other things being equal) to be on the supreme court than, say, John Roberts? In this quote, standing alone, she may be a racist (or any other kind of "-ist"), but is she right?

This question gets us back to something Obama brought up a while back. He, when discussing Souter's replacement, said he wanted someone who applied the law 'with empathy'. And, as the much maligned gray lady tells us, Obama has a thing for pragmatism over idealism with regard to Justice. Obama's implied contention is that when a justice can feel for the people involved a situation where the law intervenes, that justice can better interpret the law to serve those people and our country. Now I know many people might disagree with this contention, but I think for the sake of argument it is interesting to assume that our commander-in-chief is right, and that an empathic judge is a good thing.

So what distinguishes these two folks, Roberts and Sotomayor, in terms of their ability to relate to, and take into account, the feelings of others? Just because Sotomayor is a woman, or a sassy, family-lovin' latina, I don't think she has any more "empathy" than John Roberts. I'm sure every justice on the court, and indeed every judge on every court has empathy towards some people. The key difference, here, is the audience. I contend that the law disproportionally affects immigrants over natural born citizens, the poor over the rich, the minorities over majorities and women over men, the disabled over the able-bodied. Thankfully, the law does not usually apply to these groups negatively, but it does more often concern itself with them. This is to say Sotomayor shares a lot more with those who the law impacts and interfaces than any of the current members of the supreme court, and therefore has a lot better shot being able to empathize with those who her rulings would effect. 

The justices that serve on the supreme court are, by design, amazing people with incredible intellectual prowess. This makes them very much unlike most of the populace. I think adding someone to the court who brings the court towards, if only a little, the people it serves can only make for a more empathic and better court.

So, racist? Maybe. Wrong? I don't think so.


Silent Cal said...

Are people who come from Puerto Rico immigrants? I kind of thought they were, you know, American citizens.

And is having diabetes a disability now? When I converted to Protestantism, I lost my last quota-filler, but maybe I can make this disability thing work. I'm allergic to cats -- does that count?

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