Posted by | July 14, 2009 11:19 | Filed under: Top Stories

While Sonia Sotomayor is being criticized for her “wise Latina” comment, her critics are ignoring similar statements made by their favored nominees.


Laura Gomez, professor of law and American studies at the University of New Mexico, breaks down Sotomayor’s remark. Professor Gomez reminds us of the National Review cover “where cartoonists apparently could not quite fathom a wise Latina judge, choosing to portray Sotomayor as a Buddha with Asian features.” Gomez was a speaker at the conference where the statement was made.


Part of the impetus for the conference was to signal the potential crisis for our courts in the 21st century if we do not get more Latino lawyers interested in becoming judges and more appointed to the bench.

 

In this context, I did not find Sotomayor’s comment controversial. As I look at the speech eight years later, I’m struck by how measured and careful she was in making the claim.

 

Sotomayor said Tuesday morning her goal was to inspire Hispanic law students.  Gomez examines the supposedly offending statement:


First, the sentence I have quoted here (“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.”)  followed Sotomayor’s acknowledgement that there is no universal definition of “wise.”

 

Second, she presented the statement as aspirational by using the phrase “I would hope”; she was talking as much about the ideal of diversity as its reality.


Third, she specified that she was talking not about all Latinas and all white men but about ideal types; she invoked a “wise” Hispanic woman who has had a particular set of life experiences and white male judges who have not “lived that life” (suggesting that some white males could, in fact, bring a similar empathy and/or life experience to the bench).


Fourth, she went out of her way to say that she thought this would be the case “more often than not,” rather than all the time.

 

Yesterday we reiterated what Samuel Alito said when he acknowledged how his history and ethnic background would inform is decisions.  And when Senator Herb Kohl said to Clarence Thomas, “I would like to ask you why you want this job,” Thomas replied:


…I believe Senator, that I can make a contribution, that I can bring something different to the Court, that I can walk in the shoes of the people who are affected by what the Court does.


He said it differently than Sotomayor said it, but it’s essentially the same thing.  Who among us doesn’t believe that our own experiences help make us a good and, in some cases, better judge of things than other who have not had our experiences?

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By: Alan

Alan Colmes is the publisher of Liberaland.