Sotomayor Hearings: When Arsonists Cry Fire!

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[Speaking Truth To Power]

This past week’s confirmation hearings of Bronx-born Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, exposed an oddity: Republican politicians who’ve benefited from white privilege mendaciously crying about the fictitious “reverse discrimination” against white men.

Ever since Judge Sotomayor was nominated to replace retiring Judge David Souter, Republicans and their conservative hatchet men have been insinuating the judge is racist.

Judge Sotomayor has been attacked for a comment she made during a 2001 speech at University of California’s Berkeley School of Law, when she said “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.”

During the hearings Republicans, like Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), repeatedly attacked the judge about this comment divorced of context. Ironically, Senator Sessions was denied a federal judgeship, in 1986, because of his detailed racist history. For example, Sessions once said of the Ku Klux Klan he “used to think they’re OK,” but, unfortunately they were “pot smokers.”

The Republican line of attack was initially orchestrated by conservative con artists who dominate the so-called “liberal media.” The racial animus of these right-wingers is exemplified by Anne Coulter, William “abort Black babies” Bennett, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, who use their media bully-pulpit to stroke the flames of intolerance. Crying racism, of Sotomayor’s nomination,

Limbaugh said “Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist, and now he's appointed one...”

During the hearings, Republican senators harped on the race theme using primarily two issues: the 2009 Supreme Court’s ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano—a case Judge Sotomayor was involved in as a member of the U.S Court or Appeals for the Second Circuit —and the “wise Latina” comment.

Let’s examine both briefly.

First, the “wise Latina” comment. One of the worst things here is the lack of context. The fact is: a significant portion of the judge’s lengthy speech dealt with issues peculiar to minorities and women. The judge never implied a Latina woman was inherently smarter that a white man. Her statement explored a particular philosophical question regarding sensitivity of gender and minority topics, relating to jurisprudence. 

Here’s a longer excerpt from her speech: “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….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 also not so sure that I agree with the statement….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.”

Obviously, the judge is talking about understanding issues of “that life” indicative of the experiences of women and minorities. Is it odd to say that Blacks or females would, most likely, understand issues distinctive to the lives of women and Blacks better than white males? Put in its proper context, there’s no racism here at all. 

Much was also made of the Ricci v. DeStefano Case.

This case was used to supposedly prove that Judge Sotomayor—one of three judges on the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals—discriminated against those poor, disadvantaged white firefighters.

The truth here is that the judge’s agreement with her Second Circuit colleagues proves no such thing. During the hearings Judge Sotomayor repeatedly stressed her approach to judging is to follow the “letter of the law” and to respect the doctrine of Stare decisis upholding legal precedents.

In this case, firefighters from the city of New Haven, Connecticut, cried discrimination because the city threw out a promotion test they considered racially biased because of its “disparate impact” on minorities.

Sixteen whites—and one Hispanic—brought suit and lost when the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against them. Curiously, those Republicans accusing the judge of racism never mention that a Hispanic plaintiff was also “discriminated” against.

There’s another thing wrong here: the empty charge of “judicial activism.” Much was made of the judge’s membership in the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund and how that would supposedly make her impartial in her judicial responsibilities. However, Republicans didn’t seem to think Judge Alito was a bigot for his involvement with the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, CAP, a group that practiced discrimination against women and minorities. CAP railed against quotas, but promoted it for white males.

Also, several legal experts agree that the Second Circuit ruling in the Ricci Case followed precedent, and that it was the Supreme Court’s narrow 5-4 decision that has overturned prior precedent.

So, who’re the real “judicial activists” here? Who’ve overturned precedence here—Judge Sotomayor, or Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence “uncle” Thomas?

The real battle here’s an attempt to stop a judicial nominee who’ll maintain a counterbalance to the rightward swing the Supreme Court has taken with the picks of Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.

This battle highlights the conservative dream of taking America backwards and nullifying the progressive gains of the Civil Rights Movement which Judge Sotomayor embodies.

Benjamin is a member of The Black Star News's Editorial Board

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