Leaning to the Left

Writing from a liberal persuasion

Sotomayor and the Unfounded Objections of the Right

Posted by Beau Winiger on May 27, 2009

Yesterday President Obama announced his pick for the new Supreme Court justice, and as expected the Right has wasted no time in attacking the pick of Judge Sotomayor.  Charges brought against this justice by conservative pundits have ranged from activism to radicalism to liberalism to bullying to racism to being an affirmative action pick.  None of these charges should really be that surprising as almost all the charges were brought out before any pick was actually decided.  Even though most all of these charges were to be expected, it still is important to see if there is any merit to them.

First, the charge of being an “activist judge”, or a justice that will use their role to create policy.  Now I am not so sure that this charge carries any water, but for the sake of argument let us pretend that it does.  Why is that automatically a bad thing?  One need only look so far as the Supreme Court decision that decided that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional to see that sometimes the Supreme Court does create policy, and sometimes those policies that are created are not a bad thing.  So long as the justice works to uphold the constitution it shouldn’t automatically be called activism simply because one does not agree with the decision.

Another charge is that she is a radical, which goes along with charges that she is a liberal.  A quick examination of Sotomayor reveals that she is anything but a radical or a complete liberal.  For example, a White House talking point is the fact that “In cases where Sotomayor and at least one judge appointed by a Republican president were on the three-judge panel, Sotomayor and the Republican appointee(s) agreed on the outcome 95% of the time”.  Perhaps that does make her a radical liberal, but only by virtue of her radicalness being that she agrees with conservatives more than liberals.  Sotomayor was also a corporate lawyer at one point, and also ruled against plaintiffs seeking damages in the crash of TWA Flight 800 off the coast of New York, neither of which sound like the bonafides of a liberal radical.

Another charge is that she is a bully on the bench, she is too aggressive in other words.  Now maybe she is aggressive, maybe she does push hard to get her point across, but it is hard to believe that this charge has nothing to do with the fact that she is a woman.  These charges are never leveled against a male justice by the Right, even in the case of Justice Antonin “Go fuck yourself” Scalia.  It is only when a woman shows aggression and the desire to speak her mind that she is thought of as pushy, if it is a man then they are just being assertive.  When will we be able to get past this idea that woman should just sit idly by and only speak when spoken to?  The Right should either condemn any justice they see as pushy and bossy, or sit down and be quiet if they can only level those charges against women.

Judge Sotomayor has also been referred to as an affirmative action pick by the likes of Pat Buchanon, amongst others.  Let’s see, she was valedictorian of her high school, graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, was the editor of the Yale Law Review, and would bring more federal judicial experience to the Court than any other justice in the past 100 years.  Yep, I would definitely say that she is unqualified.  This charge is obviously so ridiculous it barely deserves a response, and yet the charge is out there and being repeated.  Chalk this one up to old white men getting upset that Obama would dare to pick a qualified Hispanic woman.

The last charge, and the stickiest, is the charge that she is racist.  This stems from a speech she gave in 2001 at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, in which she said “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.”  Sounds pretty bad right?  I admit it does, until you take the time to actually read the speech she gave.  Sotomayor was referring to the problem of minority and female judge’s not being well represented in courts, which can cause rulings that come about that do not see the seriousness of the issues before a court.  Sotomayor went on to say, in the next sentence, “Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case.”  Sotomayor was essentially saying that women and minorities have a better hold on the challenges of being a woman and a minority than a white male.  This isn’t racism, it is just common sense.  Only someone completely ignorant of human nature would assume this to be untrue. 

The nomination of Sotomayor is not a crushing blow for conservatives, nor is it a victory for liberals.  Sotomayor was first nominated to a federal position by that great liberal leader President George H.W. Bush.  She has been twice confirmed by a Republican Congress.  She has not changed since those days.  These charges are nothing more than bluster from the Right that would object to anyone nominated by Obama, no matter the pick or qualifications.  It is time for the Right to stop playing politics and objecting to every single thing that Obama does without qualification.

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One Response to “Sotomayor and the Unfounded Objections of the Right”

  1. Erin B. said

    Great post. One of the major problems here involves the corporate media (from whence comes the insane commentary floating around about Sotomayor) being slaves to the bottom line instead of being watchdogs over our democracy. I listened to NPR yesterday trying to “balance” the debate by having some conservative Texan–with questionable qualifications for even discussing this topic–talking about how the Dems are “racist” because they wouldn’t allow two people of color appointed by GWB to pass Senate confirmation hearings (sorry, but anyone appointed by GWB is probably completely ideologically oriented to protecting the hegemonic empire, as we see now with Alito and Roberts, and furthermore is inherently “tokenized” given the track record of that marginal, power-wielding administration). Listening to the NPR guest commentator was confusing and seemed like a blatant and lame attempt to compete with the large networks that make a very good living off the inflammatory remarks of their news anchors (most of whom are nothing more than commentators and editorialists–NOT NEWS PEOPLE).

    The problem (and danger) with mainstream media is that they are framing this and other debates for us–not telling us what to think, but how to think about things (which seems less manipulative than the former)–instead of presenting the facts like we trust them to do. Like you point out, Beau, Sotomayor is a strong, non-political candidate and has a long and proven track record of rulings in line with existing precent. She is an exemplary candidate and by looking at her rulings—it’s impossible to discern any level of political advocacy in any form. Anyone with basic critical thinking skills can see right though the ridiculous nature of most of the current debates about Sotomayor’s eligibility, but the 24-hour news cycle and its force-feed strategy for “educating” (tongue firmly in cheek) viewers has left many with limited critical thinking abilities in general. After all, when someone’s doing the work for you, are you gonna stop them? When you keep the populace stupid and distracted, they’re more likely to buy into your advertisers’ arguments and continue to watch your network.

    The difference of course is that most of us don’t know the corporate networks (a total of five now control all the news gathering/reporting, by the way) are doing the work for us. It’s offensive when one deconstructs this further–to realize that lazy consumers of information become lazy participants in democracy, continually distracted by stupid little arguments between two ends of a corporate and irrelevant spectrum about whether a highly qualified Latina judge is racist or not. Stupid! Irrelevant! And for chrissakes, there are people suffering, countries being occupied, wars happening, and other much more important things going on around the world. But hey, those topics don’t bring Ann Coulter to the pulpit to say more ridiculous, hateful things that bring more advertising dollars to Fox News and all the networks, for that matter. On a side note, the anti-conciliatory tone of the commentary scene today is so disheartening—it’s like watching more people line up to watch two people pummel each other to death than attend a conference on human rights or media democratization.

    And duh, rulings do make policy. Indirectly, but duh. That’s something you learn in pre-law courses. All three branches of government have policy-making ability. Judges aren’t supposed to sit on the bench and make rulings in an effort to directly affect policy, but as you point out Beau, sometimes when the letter of the law is applied in the only way it can to be applied, policy changes result.

    People need to listen carefully and deconstruct everything they hear–especially from the mainstream. Apply logic. Repeat. With a critically thinking, well-informed citizenry, we wouldn’t be throwing up a little bit in our mouths every time we turn on the news or read the newspapers that used to be hard-hitting and awesome before they were bought out and/or cautioned about “being careful” (protect the corporations! only say enough to attract viewers/ratings while not pissing off advertisers and corporate owners!) when talking about anything and everything. But, since we depend on the media to help us stay well-informed, the first call must be for a better media structure free from the grasps of capitalistic slavery. Kudos to the likes of Amy Goodman, Gore Vidal, Phil Donahue, bloggers like you (Beau), and countless others for attempting to add something critical (and largely missing from the mainstream) to the marketplace of ideas: independent thought that considers the human element–the effect on the citizenry, and how fucking mad it makes us (or should make us) to be manipulated by a bunch of dudes in suits who don’t really care about free speech, human rights, or an educated public and a participatory democracy. After all, look at how our people continue to fight amongst themselves while the thieves take from our pockets. And we let them! While we argue about who’s worse: Wall Street or the auto companies. Republicans or Democrats. Socialists or capitalists. My ideology vs. your ideology. My daddy’s stronger than your daddy.

    Stupid! Irrelevant!

    (stepping off the soap box now, I probably exceeded the character count for one post!! i am looking forward to your next post! bravo!)

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