On her most recent program, leftist MSNBCÂ host Rachel Maddow summed up all conservative and Republican opposition to Sonia Sotomayorâ€™s nomination for Supreme Court Justice as nothing more than a â€œcampaignâ€ that â€œis substantially about race.â€ â€œThus far,â€ Maddow sneered, â€œRepublicans have attackedÂ [Sotomayor’s] â€˜Wise Latinaâ€™ comment, they have called her an affirmative action nominee, [and] they have singled out her ruling in an affirmative-action discrimination case.â€ And for good measure, added Maddow, â€œ[t]hey have chosen to inveigh againstÂ [Sotomayor’s] work for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.â€
MaddowÂ 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 â€œwise Latinaâ€ commentÂ was made by Sotomayor during a 2001 speech atÂ UC Berkeley, during which she suggested, approvingly, that making the federal bench more â€œdiverseâ€â€”in terms of ethnicity, race, gender, or sexual orientationâ€”â€œwill have an effect on the development of the law and on judging.â€ Refuting the notion that judges should not permit the foregoing personal traits to influence their legal decisions, she said: â€œI 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 hasnâ€™t lived that life.â€ â€œWhether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences,â€ she elaborated, â€œour gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judgingâ€¦. I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society.â€
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 impulsesÂ (perhaps aimed againstÂ people of certain skin colors), it is difficult to see why Sotomayorâ€™s comments on this matter should not alarm Americans who in fact favor the ideal of a color-blind justice system. Â
(2) While Maddow objects to any suggestion that Sotomayor is â€œan affirmative-action nominee,â€Â the judgeÂ herself is on record as having pretty much described herself as an affirmative-action everything. Hereâ€™s what she has said about the role that affirmative action played in her educational background:
“I am a product of affirmative action.Â 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.Â My test scores were not comparable to that of my colleagues at PrincetonÂ or Yaleâ€¦. [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.â€
(3)Â Sotomayor’s â€œruling in an affirmative-action discrimination caseâ€Â refers toÂ the caseÂ of Frank Ricci, a white Connecticut firefighterÂ 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 withÂ Sotomayorâ€™s position that Ricciâ€™s constitutional rights were not violated by Sotomayor’s rulings. YetÂ the fact remains that Ricciâ€™s case was recently referred to the Supreme Court (which overturned Sotomayorâ€™s Appeals Court decisions) andÂ it became, by any objective measure, one of the most significant Supreme CourtÂ rulingsÂ in recent decades. If ever a case deserved to be â€œsingled out,â€ it was this one.
(4) As for Sotomayorâ€™s association with the PRLDEF, it bears mention thatÂ the judgeÂ did a great deal more than merely, as Maddow phrased it, â€œwork forâ€ this organization.Â For twelve yearsÂ Sotomayor was, according toÂ TheÂ New York Times,Â the â€œtop policy makerâ€Â on the PRLDEF Board of Directors.Â The PRLDEF promotes amnesty and expanded rights for illegal immigrantsÂ living in the United States;Â preferential treatment for minorities in job-hiring,Â career advancement, and university admissions; and race-based redistricting plans that would guarantee congressional electoral victories for Latino candidates.
Moreover, during Sotomayorâ€™s tenure onÂ the PRLDEFÂ Board the group characterized threeÂ Puerto Rican FALN terrorists (who hadÂ shot five members of Congress in 1954) as â€œfighters for freedom and justice.â€
Perhaps Rachel Maddow finds none of these positions the least bit troublesome.Â But it could hardly be called unreasonable forÂ Republicansâ€”or anyone else, for that matterâ€”to express concernÂ about them.