Sotomayor '76 nominated to the Supreme Court
by Laura Smith-Gary
This morning, President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor (Princeton undergrad!) to the Supreme Court of the United States. If confirmed, she will be the court's first Hispanic Justice and only the third woman to serve on the court. As Tommy pointed out in a comment a while back, this would give Princeton a SCOTUS representative who is not Alito. Hurray! Well-educated and experienced, Sotomayor has known she wanted to be a judge since she was ten years old and growing up in Bronx public housing. The Washington Post interviewed her colleagues and associates, who called her a "legal purist" who is not "reflexively liberal" but who "understands the complexity of issues," a tough judge capable of going toe-to-toe with any conservative judge on the court who is also invested in being a mentor and friend to her colleagues and subordinates.
Her detractors, most notably Jeffrey Rosen of The New Republic and his anonymous sources, have said she is "not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench," controlling and nitpicking, overly dependent on her clerks to be her "family" (she is, gasp, divorced) and too assertive. he then mentions, at the end of his article, that he hasn't really read her opinions or talked to "enough" of her supporters or detractors. (Here, Glenn Greenwald of Salon explains why Rosen's article is a "hit job" rather than actual reporting. It's also fun to play "find the sexist stereotype!" in the Rosen article.)
Some of her remarks have also caused consternation -- consternation that, in my opinion, reflects how strongly we see the white male experience as "neutral." In a 2001 address at the U.C. Berkley Law School, Sotomayor said that gender and national origins of judges will affect their decisions (this is a good general article that outlines her positions, decisions, and history) and that a "wise Latina with the richness of her experience" will often come to a better conclusion on a case than a white man. While I am not entirely comfortable with this remark, I think it's telling that many who object to it totally deny the fact that white men's perspectives are also shaped by their experience: for them, white men are the objective standard and any deviation is "identity politics."
During the nomination hearings, the fun will begin in the media and in Congress -- the "white male as neutral and objective" perspective will be out in full force. Watch for buckets of sexism (she's divorced! she's childless! she has too many opinions! she won't be objective about reproductive rights!), a generous splash of racism ("Will she be able to be objective on issues like immigration and actually follow the law?" they'll ask) and of course enough "ACTIVIST JUDGE WHO LEGISLATES FROM THE BENCH AND HAS SO-CALLED EMPATHY" to sink an aircraft carrier. I don't feel unqualified support for Sotomayor -- for instance, I need her to describe her position on the separation of powers and explain why she once referred to judges as making policy. I'm also not pleased that she upheld the Mexico City Policy (Global Gag Rule) against abortion-rights groups, though I understand that she was basing her opinion on the Supreme Court's decision. I very much hope that her confirmation hearings will address these issues and not focus on the fact that she is a woman and second-generation Puerto Rican.
Thoughts on Sotomayor, the nomination process, the media treatment, or the value/irrelevance of gender/ethnicity/class/etc.?