Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor

The Right Wing seems to have gone completely nuts over this nomination of a Hispanic woman to the Supreme Court. Of course, going nuts for them is not a big leap but just a small step. It's rather amusing that some of the Republican pros are now toning back their rhetoric, seeming to realize that everyone on the right has gone too far and they have likely already lost any degree of the Hispanic vote, they are trying to step back a bit and sound rational again.

One thing they have done that pisses me off to a large degree is how they took a single quote out of a long speech of Sotomayor's, when the entire point of her speech was about what it means to be a Latina Woman Judge. It was titled A Latina Judge’s Voice and you can follow the link and read the whole thing, but it's quite long. I will post some of it here:
While recognizing the potential effect of individual experiences on perception, Judge Cedarbaum nevertheless believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law. Although I agree with and attempt to work toward Judge Cedarbaum's aspiration, I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases. And I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society. Whatever the reasons why we may have different perspectives, either as some theorists suggest because of our cultural experiences or as others postulate because we have basic differences in logic and reasoning, are in many respects a small part of a larger practical question we as women and minority judges in society in general must address.
Look at how nuanced this paragraph is. She talks about how judges strive to be unbiased when judging a case, but then points out that it is likely impossible. Then she says it might not even be a good thing, that a judge needs to bring the entirety of their personal experiences to the bench. To fail to do so would short change the law and society. This is the very thing a Hispanic Woman Judge should be thinking about. Human beings can strive to be unbiased but cannot do so - ever. Recent scientific studies have shown that our brains require a bias, a context, in order to learn.
In our private conversations, 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.
Again, lots of nuance and an examination of how it's important that diverse thoughts and experience be brought to bear when judging a case - or arguing one. Here is the part that people are quoting:
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.
Really taken out of context, as usual. They assume people will be too lazy to look this stuff up on their own and will just accept the lies the pundits tell them. Unfortunately, that is too often the case.

Now remember that this is a speech all about being a Latina Judge. How can she talk about that and not look at what role her personal experiences will bring to her work? And she does NOT say she is better than a white male, she says she HOPES the richness of her personal exprience will enhance her ability to judge a case. Don't we all hope for that? Someone who discounts the power of their own biases will arrogantly pretend they are being fairminded when they are being just the opposite. Judge Scalia comes to mind immediately. Rare is a judicial dicision of his EVER made that contradicts his conservative biases, but if you asked him I'm sure he would tell you that he strives to be unbiased at all times.

What we have with Sonia Sotomayor is someone who will bring the full weight of her experience to the table but who will also strive to be more than that. Isn't that why we have 9 judges on the Supreme Court - to bring in a diversity of experience and knowledge?

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