Sotomayor – A Reason For Concern?

While there is all sorts of silly criticism emerging on the right (including the pronunciation of her name and the fact that she likes certain latin foods), there is an emerging criticism which I think has some validity. Most of of focuses on a speech she delivered at UC Berkley in 2001 and published later by The Berkeley La Raza Law Journal.

“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,” Sotomayor said.

“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.”

Although she attempts to have it both ways (“I agree” and “we do a disservice”), she seems to really be claiming that some level of gender or racial “empathy” is necessary to render “fair” judgments. And that only those who have lived that life are capable of such renderings. Here she essentially admits that to be the case as she perceives it:

“Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see,” Sotomayor said. “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.”

How else do you interpret her statement except to say, “we can’t change the fact that personal experiences affect our work and the best we can hope for is we will “take the good” for those experiences and apply them …?”

That, of course, helps explain the statement most of the right object too the most, i.e.:

“…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.”

Given what she said above, this makes perfect sense. Although she claims to agree “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”, she then builds the case that a) such isn’t really possible, and b) in fact race and gender based experience is a positive that should be injected in such “reason of law”.

Her ruling in the case of the 18 white firefighters in New Haven CT seems to indicate she is indeed inclined to use race and gender bias in her decisions.

That is a legitimate and troubling point and certainly one which requires a very close look. But Republicans need to lay off the silliness (and words like “racist”) and stick with the legitimate points of contention her nomination bring. And they need to explain their concerns in a way which is both complete and easy to understand.

[Crossposted at QandO]

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