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MSNBC: Maddow Says Opposition to Sotomayor "Is Substantially about Race"

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Posted on July 13 2009 12:28 pm

On her most recent program, leftist MSNBC host Rachel Maddow summed up all conservative and Republican opposition to Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination for Supreme Court Justice as nothing more than a “campaign” that “is substantially about race.” “Thus far,” Maddow sneered, “Republicans have attacked [Sotomayor's] ‘Wise Latina’ comment, they have called her an affirmative action nominee, [and] they have singled out her ruling in an affirmative-action discrimination case.” And for good measure, added Maddow, “[t]hey have chosen to inveigh against [Sotomayor's] work for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.”

Maddow casually dismissed each of these items as the fabrication of white racists who would, if given a chance, deny nonwhites any access to the levers of power in American government. Her assertions, however, wither in the face of closer scrutiny:

(1) The “wise Latina” comment was made by Sotomayor during a 2001 speech at UC Berkeley, during which she suggested, approvingly, that making the federal bench more “diverse”—in terms of ethnicity, race, gender, or sexual orientation—“will have an effect on the development of the law and on judging.” Refuting the notion that judges should not permit the foregoing personal traits to influence their legal decisions, 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.” “Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences,” she elaborated, “our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging…. I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society.”

Given that jurisprudence, if it is to have any merit at all, requires that judges at least aspire to the goal of transcending their own personal biases, resentments, and retributive impulses (perhaps aimed against people of certain skin colors), it is difficult to see why Sotomayor’s comments on this matter should not alarm Americans who in fact favor the ideal of a color-blind justice system.  

(2) While Maddow objects to any suggestion that Sotomayor is “an affirmative-action nominee,” the judge herself is on record as having pretty much described herself as an affirmative-action everything. Here’s what she has said about the role that affirmative action played in her educational background:

“I am a product of affirmative action. I am the perfect affirmative action baby. I am Puerto Rican, born and raised in the south Bronx, and from what is traditionally described as a socio-economically poor background. My test scores were not comparable to that of my colleagues at Princeton or Yale…. [I]f we had gone through the traditional numbers route of those institutions, it would have been highly questionable whether I would have been accepted with my academic achievement in high school. I was accepted rather readily at Princeton, and equally as fast at Yale.”

(3) Sotomayor’s “ruling in an affirmative-action discrimination case” refers to the case of Frank Ricci, a white Connecticut firefighter who, in two separate Appeals Court hearings before Judge Sotomayor, was denied a promotion explicitly because of his race. Maddow, of course, is entitled to agree with Sotomayor’s position that Ricci’s constitutional rights were not violated by Sotomayor’s rulings. Yet the fact remains that Ricci’s case was recently referred to the Supreme Court (which overturned Sotomayor’s Appeals Court decisions) and it became, by any objective measure, one of the most significant Supreme Court rulings in recent decades. If ever a case deserved to be “singled out,” it was this one.

(4) As for Sotomayor’s association with the PRLDEF, it bears mention that the judge did a great deal more than merely, as Maddow phrased it, “work for” this organization. For twelve years Sotomayor was, according to The New York Times, the “top policy maker” on the PRLDEF Board of Directors. The PRLDEF promotes amnesty and expanded rights for illegal immigrants living in the United States; preferential treatment for minorities in job-hiring, career advancement, and university admissions; and race-based redistricting plans that would guarantee congressional electoral victories for Latino candidates.

Moreover, during Sotomayor’s tenure on the PRLDEF Board the group characterized three Puerto Rican FALN terrorists (who had shot five members of Congress in 1954) as “fighters for freedom and justice.”

Perhaps Rachel Maddow finds none of these positions the least bit troublesome. But it could hardly be called unreasonable for Republicans—or anyone else, for that matter—to express concern about them.

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