Sonia Sotomayor: The 100 Person Referendum on White People

It seems that the issue of Sonia Sotomayor’s idea about the relation between her ethnicity, gender and life experiences and her decisions on the bench won’t go away.  Why?  Because she keeps bringing it up:

The federal appeals court judge divulged new details about her finances and provided three decades of writings, speeches and rulings that give both supporters and critics fresh fodder for the coming debate on her confirmation. They include more instances in which she said she hopes a “wise Latina” would reach a better decision than a man without that experience.

The comments in 2002 and 2003 echo a much-criticized remark she made in 2001 at the University of California-Berkeley law school that has prompted a furor among conservatives who say they suggest President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee brings a personal bias to her legal decisions.

Obama has said he is “sure she would have restated it.” In fact, she said it almost precisely the same way in speeches to the Princeton Club in 2002 and one at Seton Hall law school in 2003, according to copies she sent the Senate.

There are many, especially on the right, that think she should disclaim (that’s a nice legal term, isn’t it) her statements along these lines.  But I don’t think so.

To start with, she’s said it so many times, to take it back wouldn’t be very credible.  There are enough smoke and mirrors in American politics not to add this.

Beyond that, it should be obvious that everyone is a product of their life experiences, and those life experiences do influence how one does one’s job, irrespective of what that job might be.

Instead we need to take her premises–express and implied–and work from there.

The constant drumbeat for nearly half a century is that white people have created an inherently evil, unequal, and unjust system in this country that has to be rectified by tilting the table in the opposite direction through all kinds of state action.  To a large extent, such a thesis underlies the appeal of her idea.  That being the case, let’s stipulate that, in voting for Sonia Sotomayor, we’re voting in favour of such a thesis, and let the senators vote accordingly.  If they want to vote for her but need cover, they can take solace in the fact that not a few Americans voted for Barack Obama with the same implied thesis in the back of their minds.

Putting it in those terms would, in effect, put our country through the same kind of transition that South Africa went through when apartheid was abolished in the last decade.

I might quickly add that I’ve made, in a roundabout way, a parallel case within Evangelical Christianity.  If we look at the demographics of Evangelicals here and elsewhere, it becomes evident that it’s time for those of European descent to “pass the torch” to the rest of the Body of Christ, and to do so in a graceful way.  Unfortunately too much of our agenda as Evangelicals is geared to the needs of one specific group, and if we’re serious about being all things to all men, our leadership needs to reflect that.  That a big reason why the whole saga of the Africans and the North American Anglicans is such a thrill (I’ll bet that TEC’s Presiding Bishop would take exception to that!)

The trout in the milk is that Sotomayor is an Ivy Leaguer, which undercuts the whole concept of real diversity.  If everyone who amounts to anything is a product of a small group of universities, all you’ve done is change the nature of the exclusive club, not abolish it.  But that’s just another day of smoke and mirrors in American politics.

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