Sunday, July 12, 2009

Some still need to "overcome"...

With Sotomayor's confirmation hearing beginning on Monday, this week looks to be one where the issue of race will be front and center. This dialogue should be good for the country and most likely will center on a comment made on Oct. 26, 2001 when Judge Sotomayor gave the Judge Mario G. Olmos Memorial Lecture at the law school at the University of California at Berkeley. The lecture was delivered during a symposium sponsored by the La Raza Law Journal, the Berkeley La Raza Law Students Association, the Boalt Hall Center for Social Justice and the Center for Latino Policy Research. The symposium was entitled, "Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence in the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation."

The context in which Sotomayor made the comments was as follows: “Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging," said Sotomayor. She went on to say:

"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," said Sotomayor. "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.”

It is the last sentence that has the right so up in arms, yet in typical fashion, the right has taken her comments out of context and twisted the true meaning of what Sotomayer said. The key emphasis of her point is that she would hope 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. Notice she didn't say "wise" white male. So what's wrong with hoping a wise Latina woman reaches a better conclusion than a white male who isn't wise? Wouldn't you expect the "wise" person to reach a better conclusion than the "non-wise" person regardless of race or gender? Had she compared a "wise" Latina woman to a "wise" white male and made the same judgment, that would be racist. But she didn't. Sotomayer's primary differentiation was one of wisdom, not race.

And while I am on the subject of race, I often hear many on the right claim the election of a Black President is proof positive racism is no longer exists in our country. Someone should tell this to the kids at the center of this story.

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