The Context of Sotomayor's ideas on race

Ethel C. Fenig
Liberal, left wing bloggers such as Daily Kos and Glenn Greenwald are labeling hypocrites those questioning the Sotomayor nomination to the Supreme Court because of statements
she made
regarding her interpretation of the law  

 as 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," said Judge Sotomayor,

They are doing so by triumphantly highlighting Justice Sam Alito's statements he made during his confirmation hearings.

that "he cared for the little guy," Alito said that his family's experience as immigrants influenced his outlook on immigration cases.

And that's why I went into that in my opening statement. Because when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position...

When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.

    Kos asked


So when Sam Alito said his family's immigrant experience influenced his outlook, it was okay, but now that Sonia Sotomayor (who, like Alito, is an appeleta judge) has been nominated to the Supreme Court, she's a "racist?"

Puhlease. The real issue for these guys isn't what she said. They're just pissed off about who said it.

Fair enough point.  Well, not really because Kos and Greenwald didn't give us the entire quote, just strategic excerpts, with strategic emphasis.  A little context is in order.  Puhlease. 

The context is the  confirmation hearing; Alito answered a question from Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and surrounded the above with some qualifications.

COBURN:  You know, I think at times during these hearings you have been unfairly criticized or characterized as that you don't care about the less fortunate, you don't care about the little guy, you dont't care about the weak or the innocent.

Can you comment just about Sam Alito, and what he cares about, and let us see a little bit of your heart and what's important to you in life?

ALITO: Senator, I tried to in my opening statement, I tried to provide a little picture of who I am as a human being and how my background and my experiences have shaped me and brought me to this point.

ALITO: I don't come from an affluent background or a privileged background. My parents were both quite poor when they were growing up.

And I know about their experiences and I didn't experience those things. I don't take credit for anything that they did or anything that they overcame.

But I think that children learn a lot from their parents and they learn from what the parents say. But I think they learn a lot more from what the parents do and from what they take from the stories of their parents lives.

And that's why I went into that in my opening statement. Because when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position.

And so it's my job to apply the law. It's not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result. (italics added.  ECF)

But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, "You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country."

When I have cases involving children, I can't help but think of my own children and think about my children being treated in the way that children may be treated in the case that's before me.

And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account. When I have a case involving someone who's been subjected to discrimination because of disability, I have to think of people who I've known and admire very greatly who've had disabilities, and I've watched them struggle to overcome the barriers that society puts up often just because it doesn't think of what it's doing -- the barriers that it puts up to them.

So those are some of the experiences that have shaped me as a person.

Coburn apparently felt compelled to ask these questions in a public confirmation hearing because of the harsh opposition to Alito from the Democrats who apparently weren't too concerned about alienating Italian-American males, Catholic American males or Italian Catholic American males with their undisguised hostility to an Italian-American Catholic white man proposed to the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush (R).

And speaking of context, just where did Sotomayor utter her now infamous statement?  According to the New York Times

The following is the text of the Judge Mario G. Olmos Memorial Lecture in 2001, delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, by appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor. It was published in the Spring 2002 issue of Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, a symposium issue entitled "Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence in the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation," and it is reproduced here with permission from the journal.

So in this friendly ethnic, seemingly professional victim atmosphere, Sonia Sotomayor gave her real opinion about ethnicity, gender and her unique "richness of experiences."  Did she recommend that if Hispanics--male and female--wanted to increase their "presence in the judiciary" they should do as she  did--study hard, work hard, some sacrifice along the way and succeed through merit?  Hmmm.  In addition to her own family that's what millions of Americans, including Alito's and my own did.  It is the American story, unique perhaps in each family, common enough to millions; an enriching experience--and a tough one--for all.

Oh, and not so incidentally, Sotomayor's speech was published in La Raza Law Journal.  La Raza means The Race.  Wow, imagine the fireworks if Scalia had initially written about his judicial attitudes in a legal journal titled The Superiority of the White Latin Italian Male Law Journal; The Superiority of the Catholic Male Law Journal, etc.

So Kos, Greenwald and others--you've raised some interesting points.  Can you defend them, instead of putting others down?  Let the contextual clashes begin.  And let liberty and justice for all prevail.

Liberal, left wing bloggers such as Daily Kos and Glenn Greenwald are labeling hypocrites those questioning the Sotomayor nomination to the Supreme Court because of statements
she made
regarding her interpretation of the law  

 as 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," said Judge Sotomayor,

They are doing so by triumphantly highlighting Justice Sam Alito's statements he made during his confirmation hearings.

that "he cared for the little guy," Alito said that his family's experience as immigrants influenced his outlook on immigration cases.

And that's why I went into that in my opening statement. Because when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position...

When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.

    Kos asked


So when Sam Alito said his family's immigrant experience influenced his outlook, it was okay, but now that Sonia Sotomayor (who, like Alito, is an appeleta judge) has been nominated to the Supreme Court, she's a "racist?"

Puhlease. The real issue for these guys isn't what she said. They're just pissed off about who said it.

Fair enough point.  Well, not really because Kos and Greenwald didn't give us the entire quote, just strategic excerpts, with strategic emphasis.  A little context is in order.  Puhlease. 

The context is the  confirmation hearing; Alito answered a question from Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and surrounded the above with some qualifications.

COBURN:  You know, I think at times during these hearings you have been unfairly criticized or characterized as that you don't care about the less fortunate, you don't care about the little guy, you dont't care about the weak or the innocent.

Can you comment just about Sam Alito, and what he cares about, and let us see a little bit of your heart and what's important to you in life?

ALITO: Senator, I tried to in my opening statement, I tried to provide a little picture of who I am as a human being and how my background and my experiences have shaped me and brought me to this point.

ALITO: I don't come from an affluent background or a privileged background. My parents were both quite poor when they were growing up.

And I know about their experiences and I didn't experience those things. I don't take credit for anything that they did or anything that they overcame.

But I think that children learn a lot from their parents and they learn from what the parents say. But I think they learn a lot more from what the parents do and from what they take from the stories of their parents lives.

And that's why I went into that in my opening statement. Because when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position.

And so it's my job to apply the law. It's not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result. (italics added.  ECF)

But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, "You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country."

When I have cases involving children, I can't help but think of my own children and think about my children being treated in the way that children may be treated in the case that's before me.

And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account. When I have a case involving someone who's been subjected to discrimination because of disability, I have to think of people who I've known and admire very greatly who've had disabilities, and I've watched them struggle to overcome the barriers that society puts up often just because it doesn't think of what it's doing -- the barriers that it puts up to them.

So those are some of the experiences that have shaped me as a person.

Coburn apparently felt compelled to ask these questions in a public confirmation hearing because of the harsh opposition to Alito from the Democrats who apparently weren't too concerned about alienating Italian-American males, Catholic American males or Italian Catholic American males with their undisguised hostility to an Italian-American Catholic white man proposed to the Supreme Court by President George W. Bush (R).

And speaking of context, just where did Sotomayor utter her now infamous statement?  According to the New York Times

The following is the text of the Judge Mario G. Olmos Memorial Lecture in 2001, delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, by appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor. It was published in the Spring 2002 issue of Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, a symposium issue entitled "Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence in the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation," and it is reproduced here with permission from the journal.

So in this friendly ethnic, seemingly professional victim atmosphere, Sonia Sotomayor gave her real opinion about ethnicity, gender and her unique "richness of experiences."  Did she recommend that if Hispanics--male and female--wanted to increase their "presence in the judiciary" they should do as she  did--study hard, work hard, some sacrifice along the way and succeed through merit?  Hmmm.  In addition to her own family that's what millions of Americans, including Alito's and my own did.  It is the American story, unique perhaps in each family, common enough to millions; an enriching experience--and a tough one--for all.

Oh, and not so incidentally, Sotomayor's speech was published in La Raza Law Journal.  La Raza means The Race.  Wow, imagine the fireworks if Scalia had initially written about his judicial attitudes in a legal journal titled The Superiority of the White Latin Italian Male Law Journal; The Superiority of the Catholic Male Law Journal, etc.

So Kos, Greenwald and others--you've raised some interesting points.  Can you defend them, instead of putting others down?  Let the contextual clashes begin.  And let liberty and justice for all prevail.