It’s Time For Sonia Sotomayor


After 15 long years, a Democrat in the oval office finally has the opportunity to make a Supreme Court nomination.  Clinton had two successful nominations, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer who were seated on the Court in 1993 and 1994 respectively.  Presently, 7 of the 9 Justices were nominated by Republicans.

President Obama made an excellent choice in Sonia Sotomayor on a number of levels, but I’d mainly like to look at the issue of diversity – and if you think diversity does not matter, let me try to convince you that it does.

Consider the current composition of the Supreme Court:  8 of the 9 are male.  With only 1 female on the Court, Justice Ginsberg, who is battling cancer and may have to step down in the immediate future, women are not adequately represented, given that they make up 50.9% of the population in the U.S. according to the latest Census data.  Sotomayor is the first Hispanic ever to be nominated.  And it is about time.  Projections indicate that by 2010, Hispanics will make up 15.5% of the U.S. population.

The racial and gender composition of the court is important and changes the court dynamic.  The New York Times addresses the impact minority judges have had on the Supreme Court from Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first black member to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman.   Diversity brings ideological difference, which is critical for healthy deliberation.  There is more than one way to interpret the constitution.   If there were only one way, we wouldn’t need the courts at all.  We could just run the facts of a case through a computer program for an instant decision.  No deliberation.  No debate.   Supreme Court justices are  charged with the task of interpreting the constitution, a word that implies difference.  And a functioning, dynamic democracy demands difference – otherwise we have no real democracy at all.  Want total conformity, maybe you’d be happy in Fidel’s Cuba or Kim Jong-il’s North Korea.

I’ve heard the argument that we have to stay true to the constitution and to the wishes of our founding fathers; that the justices role is not to interpret, but to follow the constitution literally as written.  This is the view of  strict constitutionalism, which is at one end of the spectrum of judicial philosophy; judicial activism is at the other end, also known as legislating from the bench.  According to Chris Weigant, this philosophy is misunderstood and is actually precisely what the framers of the constitution intended the Judicial branch to do as part of the system of checks and balances.

Sonia Sotomayor has the intellectual chops as a Princeton and Yale Law graduate to serve on the Court.  Though if she had been a non-Ivy league graduate, she would even have more credibility in my eyes.  I’d like a little more educational diversity on the court.  Maybe in the next round.

Sotomayor also has had bipartisan support.  Don’t forget that she was nominated by Bush 41 for the U.S. District Court and confirmed and later nominated by Clinton for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and confirmed.  Having been confirmed twice by the Senate, her Supreme Court confirmation hearing should go smoothly, but probably won’t.

Sotomayor.  Learn to pronounce her name.  She is going to be on the Supreme Court for a very long time and America will be the better for it.

4 Responses

  1. Sotomayor may well be a SCOTUS Justice, but I sincerely doubt that America will be better for it. Only racists will benefit from her appointment, not because she’s racist – she might be, but I don’t know – but because she’s being appointed and lauded on purely racist and sexist grounds.

  2. There’s nothing racist or sexist about gender and racial diversification. Diversification promotes fairness and balance, nothing else.

    And she has not been appointed, only nominated; she still has to be confirmed. To extend your logic, her past supporters must have been racist and sexist too, from Bush I to all the Senators who voted to confirm her twice.

    It’s a mistake to confuse racism and sexism with discussion of race and gender. Racism is a theory that one race is superior or inferior to another. There is absolutely no evidence that her supporters or detractors, for that matter, hold that belief. Sexism is the belief that one gender is superior to another. Likewise, there is not a hint of that as a motive for her nomination. Has it occurred to you that she has been lauded because of her intellectual capacity, and her judicial experience?

  3. There is everything racist and sexist about nominated a SCOTUS Justice for the sake of “gender and racial diversification.” That is, in fact, saying that her being non-White and female is superior in this instance.

    As for her abilities – she has them, but they don’t seem to be important in this matter. Even the White House has focused far, far more on her race, gender and socioeconomic class at birth than her judicial track record.

  4. If you want to toss around the term racism, explain why it has taken 222 years for a president to nominate a person of Hispanic background? What troubles me is that there seems to be a double standard in this debate. Bush the younger nominated two White men, but nobody called him a racist or sexist for doing it. Now that Obama has chosen a Latina, the Conservative Right is up in arms…what’s up with that?

    The court needs to be diversified to ensure a final layer of checks and balances. If the court were stacked with 9 justices, or even 6 who graduated from the same school, lived in the same neighborhood, went to the same church, had the same judicial philosophy and shared the same beliefs on all the controversial issues of the day, what kind of court would it be? Would there ever be a fair trial without debate? What Sotomayor bashers really want is a judge that will rule their way on the all the issues of the day. It’s really about ideology, not race or gender. These false allegations of racism and sexism are just a smokescreen to derail the candidate and keep the debate focused away from her qualifications as a judge. And when qualifications do come up, the buzz phrase is judicial activism, which is nothing more than a view on the other end of the philosophical spectrum – a check on the other extreme – strict constitutionalism.

    Justice Souter, who Sotomayor would replace, said that the addition of a different judicial perspective on the court forces the others to take a closer look at a case, to examine it from a angle that they may not have ever considered.

    Let’s make no mistake: Sotomayor would never have been considered for the nomination had it not been for her elite academic preparation – Princeton and Yale. Nor would she have been on a short list without judicial experience and bipartisan support during her first two federal judicial confirmations. The White house is not saying confirm her because she is Latina – but the sum total of her background makes her a desirable candidate, not superior, but desirable. In the end, the President has a right to chose who he wants, but the nomination still has to be confirmed. That’s how the system of checks and balances work. If she proves to be undesirable, she won’t be confirmed.

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