Tag Archives: SCOTUS pick

Context? Here’s what Sotomayor said in 2001; Was it racist?

Sometimes you need more than the soundbite. In the new racist war being waged by conservatives over the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, it seems that there’s an attempt  to stymie the new emerging  politics of diversity with the polarizing old politics of angry white men.

It’s so 1994.

Going back to the hate politics of a previous decade doesn’t get us anywhere we need to be.

So I admit to being a little puzzled by how conservatives like Rush Limbaugh continue to call Sotomayor a racist for comments made in Berkeley in 2001.

The phrase that conservatives are in a tizzy about is bolded below.But you tell me if there’s an ounce of racism when you see how the phrase came up in her talk in Berkeley in 2001.

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.

These judges aren’t robots. They’re human.  They have feelings and experiences that will inform their decisions. That’s why a diverse America needs a diverse high court,one that creates a certain empathy for all those seeking justice.  Empathy alone won’t return  a favorable decision.  But it will assure anyone who stands before the court that no perspectives were overlooked. That’s what a diverse bench promises, a sense of fairness and justice for all.