Taking a cue from Newt Gingrich and Ann Coulter, Senator Jeff Sessions, the Alabama republican who is going to lead the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor, declared that comments made by nominee about race are "troubling."
No, they're not. Let me explain.
In 2001, Sotomayor spoke about discrimination cases at an event sponsored by La Raza at UC Berkeley's School of Law. It was a largely innocuous speech about her Latina roots, her childhood, rice, beans and pork intestines. Kid you not - read the speech here. So what was her troubling remark?
Her speech went on to address the need for diversity in our country's judicial system. I'm paraphrasing, but the gist of the speech was this: if there are more and more people of color in this country, why are they not represented in our courts? Can justice be doled out if, for whatever reason, different experiences and points of view are hindered from joining the upper ranks of our legal system?
Sototmayor went on to talk about conversations she'd had with another judge, Miriam Cederbaum , who didn't believe that women and other minorities made much of an impact on cases that impact these groups. Here's what the nominee said about those conversations:
In our private conversations, Judge Cedarbaum has pointed out to me that seminal decisions in race and sex discrimination cases have come from Supreme Courts composed exclusively of white males. I agree that this is significant but I also choose to emphasize that the people who argued those cases before the Supreme Court which changed the legal landscape ultimately were largely people of color and women. I recall that Justice Thurgood Marshall, Judge Connie Baker Motley, the first black woman appointed to the federal bench, and others of the NAACP argued Brown v. Board of Education. Similarly, Justice Ginsburg, with other women attorneys, was instrumental in advocating and convincing the Court that equality of work required equality in terms and conditions of employment.
This was followed by her now infamous remark:
Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, 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.
So, if we're talking about the need for a judicial system that is more representative of our nation's diversity, why is it racist to say that someone who understands the complexities of race and gender issues, and whose group has been largely left of out the legal system, would make a more informed decision than the cookie-cutter judge who has never lived any of these issues?
Sotomayor did not call for a purge of the legal system or cite a need for quotas to ensure there are more colored people on the bench. She just said it might make sense to get more points of view and a diversity of backgrounds on the bench - how is that racist?