With the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the next Supreme Court Justice, President Barack Obama has caused something of a stir. However, it’s not because she’s Latina, or because she’s a woman, or even because people claim her to be under qualified.
Apparently, it’s because she’s a racist.
The incriminating statement, made during a speech at U.C. Berkeley in 2001, is as follows: “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.”
Taken out of context, it does seem like something a judge should probably not say. But, if read in context with the rest of speech, this over-publicized sentence has one meaning: that everyone’s life experiences will be different from everyone else’s. And since no one on the Supreme Court comes from a background similar to Sotomayor’s, it seems to me she’s just the breath of fresh air this Court could use.
The mere fact that humans identify each other as white, or Hispanic, or black or anything else based on the way a person looks makes each one of us experience the world in a different way. As a white, middle class woman, my life experiences are going to be much different than a black, upper class man’s, or those of an Arabic lower class woman. It’s simply a fact of life that, in the history of this country, most people in positions of power have been those old, white men.
Therefore, this country has been making laws and policies according to what those men think are best, but the best course of action is surely going to differ for different groups of people. Currently, of the Court’s nine members, six are old, white, men. With the appointment of Sotomayor, that would shift down one to five. While it’s hardly enough to truly represent the diverse population of this country, it is a step away from the time-honored “old boy’s club.”
However, I would never argue that a person should be given anything based on their race or ethnicity. Sotomayor was not nominated by Obama simply because she is Latina. She is also a highly educated, highly successful woman. She graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and received her J.D. from Yale Law School. She began her legal career as an Assistant District Attorney in New York City, where she prosecuted crimes ranging in severity from shoplifting to murder. She then moved on to work in civil litigation for a few years before being appointed to her first judgeship by former President George H.W. Bush. She has served this country as a judge since 1992.
Sotomayor’s legal experiences, along with her life experiences, offer her a unique perspective from the bench. She will view cases in a different way from those of her, hopefully, soon-to-be colleagues on the Supreme Court. She is an excellent choice, and I would urge both Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin to vote to confirm her appointment to the Court.