The 'Wise Latina' Faces the Senate

President Obama's first court nominee and potentially the first Hispanic Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, will be answering many questions during her Senate confirmation hearings this week. But more than likely, hot button issues like abortion, affirmative action and gun control will be avoided. Instead the Senators will be pressing her about her judicial philosophy and the major court decisions she's made in her career.

One of her statements which has drawn a great deal of controversy is the remark that she made in 2001 at the University of California Berkeley law school. "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," she said.

Naturally, conservative pundits have pounced on that remark to show that Sotomayor demonstrated a racial bias -- but it is more likely that her bias is gender reflective. The truth is that most women feel that they have a better understanding of life situations than men of any color who rarely have to deal with the vicissitudes of daily life in the same way as we do.

As a woman who came from a similar background as Sotomayor, I understand what she was trying to convey in her speech, but I certainly wouldn't characterize it as a "wise" thing to say in public, even if it was in the liberal environs of California-Berkeley.

At a dinner last month, I sat next to a black man who worked at CNN and had a spirited conversation about last year's election. When I asked him what he knew about Obama before he voted for him, he said nothing and admitted he voted for him simply because he was black. Then he asked,

"Aren't you proud of Sonia Sotomayor being nominated to the Supreme Court?"

I laughed and told him that I had nothing to do with her selection and that the only thing we had in common were our Latina heritage and growing up in the projects.  Why would I take credit for her achievements? This identifying with ethnic roots dismisses the importance of our both being native born Americans and that's just shameful.

It would be foolish for Republican Senators to try and derail her nomination by harping on her off-the-cuff comment rather than her judicial record. Her remarks are far less damaging than what Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in a New York Times interview July 12th. Ginsburg said she thought the landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion was predicated on the Supreme Court majority's desire to diminish "populations that we don't want to have too many of." Now what exactly did she mean by that?

This is the same philosophy that prompted eugenicist Margaret Sanger to found Planned Parenthood and place the clinics in areas where both Sotomayor and I grew up. Perhaps we belonged to those populations that Ginsburg and Sanger did not "want too many of."

After I wrote the last article about the nomination of Sotomayor (Sotomayor and Spellman. NY Sun, May 28, 2009) I received quite a number of emails but none more interesting than the following email from a former colleague.

I will keep her identity and affiliation confidential but will share her comment. She wrote:

"I appreciated your article on Sonia and in particular, your cite of her quote about not bending the Constitution.  Having worked with Sonia and seeing her up close in a professional capacity, I have been trying to calm my fellow conservatives that this woman has incredible integrity and will not take lightly her position as a Supreme Court Justice.  I believe when she dons those robes, she will feel the weight, tradition and responsibility of the document our forefathers wrote with such genius.  She will act with the conscience and character for which she is known."

President Obama will undoubtedly have the opportunity of nominating another justice and I am confident that his next choice will be the one that conservatives will really need to battle. Republicans should save their ammunition for the next time.

Contact Alicia Colon
President Obama's first court nominee and potentially the first Hispanic Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, will be answering many questions during her Senate confirmation hearings this week. But more than likely, hot button issues like abortion, affirmative action and gun control will be avoided. Instead the Senators will be pressing her about her judicial philosophy and the major court decisions she's made in her career.

One of her statements which has drawn a great deal of controversy is the remark that she made in 2001 at the University of California Berkeley law school. "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," she said.

Naturally, conservative pundits have pounced on that remark to show that Sotomayor demonstrated a racial bias -- but it is more likely that her bias is gender reflective. The truth is that most women feel that they have a better understanding of life situations than men of any color who rarely have to deal with the vicissitudes of daily life in the same way as we do.

As a woman who came from a similar background as Sotomayor, I understand what she was trying to convey in her speech, but I certainly wouldn't characterize it as a "wise" thing to say in public, even if it was in the liberal environs of California-Berkeley.

At a dinner last month, I sat next to a black man who worked at CNN and had a spirited conversation about last year's election. When I asked him what he knew about Obama before he voted for him, he said nothing and admitted he voted for him simply because he was black. Then he asked,

"Aren't you proud of Sonia Sotomayor being nominated to the Supreme Court?"

I laughed and told him that I had nothing to do with her selection and that the only thing we had in common were our Latina heritage and growing up in the projects.  Why would I take credit for her achievements? This identifying with ethnic roots dismisses the importance of our both being native born Americans and that's just shameful.

It would be foolish for Republican Senators to try and derail her nomination by harping on her off-the-cuff comment rather than her judicial record. Her remarks are far less damaging than what Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in a New York Times interview July 12th. Ginsburg said she thought the landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion was predicated on the Supreme Court majority's desire to diminish "populations that we don't want to have too many of." Now what exactly did she mean by that?

This is the same philosophy that prompted eugenicist Margaret Sanger to found Planned Parenthood and place the clinics in areas where both Sotomayor and I grew up. Perhaps we belonged to those populations that Ginsburg and Sanger did not "want too many of."

After I wrote the last article about the nomination of Sotomayor (Sotomayor and Spellman. NY Sun, May 28, 2009) I received quite a number of emails but none more interesting than the following email from a former colleague.

I will keep her identity and affiliation confidential but will share her comment. She wrote:

"I appreciated your article on Sonia and in particular, your cite of her quote about not bending the Constitution.  Having worked with Sonia and seeing her up close in a professional capacity, I have been trying to calm my fellow conservatives that this woman has incredible integrity and will not take lightly her position as a Supreme Court Justice.  I believe when she dons those robes, she will feel the weight, tradition and responsibility of the document our forefathers wrote with such genius.  She will act with the conscience and character for which she is known."

President Obama will undoubtedly have the opportunity of nominating another justice and I am confident that his next choice will be the one that conservatives will really need to battle. Republicans should save their ammunition for the next time.

Contact Alicia Colon