Thursday, May 28, 2009

On Calling Sotomayor a Racist

President Obama nominated an amazing candidate yesterday for Supreme Court Justice. Well, she's no Harriet Myers, but. I'm not going through her credentials, you've seen them, she rises to the top of every heap she's thrown into.

So which low road will the Republicans take? Here you go, Jim Galloway writing at AJC Political Insider...
Former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich just twittered the following to his closest 344,357 friends about five minutes ago, never mentioning U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor by name:
White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.

That message was preceded by this one:
Imagine a judicial nominee said “my experience as a white man makes me better than a latina woman” new racism is no better than old racism

We called a spokesman for Gingrich, who said the former Georgia congressman is currently in Europe.

The aide said the “tweets” are genuine, which makes Gingrich the most prominent Republican yet to take a hard line against Obama’s nominee for the high court. And that could presage more resolute GOP opposition in Congress. Newt Gingrich on Twitter: ‘Latina woman racist should…withdraw’

Sotomayor was raised a little bit differently from these white guys. She came up from the streets of the Bronx, her father didn't speak English, she scrapped her way to the top using nothing but brains and charm. You'd better believe her thinking is affected by that.

Her upbringing shaped her, yes, but these ignorant white guys are assuming that their upbringing didn't shape them. In their ethnocentric blindness they think their particular beliefs are simply correct and that quaint villagers from the ghettos and barrios are instances of some aboriginal cultures that may be interesting but certainly can never be correct, as they themselves are without effort.

Don't forget, white is a color, too.

And it's just one of many.

Another white guy speaks.
Conservative talk show giant Rush Limbaugh said something similar on Tuesday, after the Sotomayor nomination:
“Here you have a racist. You might want to soften that and you might want to say a reverse racist.

“And the libs of course say, the minorities cannot be racists, because they don’t have the power to implement their racism. Well, those days are gone, because reverse racists certainly do have the power to implement their power.”

The criticism is drawn from a speech that Sotomayor made in 2001 at the University of California campus in Berkley. This is the quote, via Time magazine, emphasis added:

“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 also not so sure that I agree with the statement … I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Gingrich’s European tweet quickly made it to the White House press room. This from the Washington Times:

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed the remarks as coming from a “former lawmaker” and smacking of “partisan politics.”

“It is probably important for anybody involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they decide to describe different aspects of this impending confirmation,” Mr. Gibbs said when asked about the remarks.

I don't know Sonia Sotomayor's beliefs, she may make a terrible judge, but I know two things. First, I know these stupid white guys are idiots, calling her a racist for believing that her life experiences may be richer than theirs while they assert in a million ways that the whitebread way of life should be adopted by all. Let me point out that she says the richness of her experience makes the Latina's judgment better, not something in her genes -- not her race!

Second, I don't know the context of her statement, but I like it. A person who has lived close to the neighborhood, who has fought with their own fists to keep the bully from taking their bicycle, who has seen the cops come in and bust heads, who has seen the worry in neighbors' eyes as they try to pull together enough money for the rent or to keep a kid out of trouble, is, in my opinion, going to have a better understanding of the intent and implications of the law than someone who has had everything handed to them.

I'm white and unashamed of that, I am in fact the ultimately stereotypical middle-age, middle-class, straight white guy, and I feel perfectly un-guilty accepting the luxuries that I am awarded without struggle. But I am not so stupid as to think this soft way of life is any better than a culture that works close to the earth, people like me are no better than people who work with their hands, people who follow direction obediently, people who bow their heads under the weight of their suffering and plod forward hopefully. Gingrich's and Limbaugh's way is just another way of living, and it is entirely possible that having tasted the various American strata on the way up, someone like Sonia Sotomayor has in fact qualified herself to make better judgments about how the law should be interpreted, she will understand that law that affects the lives of people up and down the strata, and not only those at the top.

As soon as the smoke had cleared on 9/11, President Bush, in his first words, started talking about "our way of life." Until then, the pride of America was that there was no "way of life," we were free to live any way of life we wished. It's time to drop that fearful talk now. Like a flock of birds that tightens up when a hawk nears, we pressed toward the middle, toward uniformity, we let the politicians and corporate suits tell us how we should be and we pursued their ideal. It's time to drop that, it's time for us to come out with all our differences. Experiences like Sonia Sotomayor's will make the court better.

What it comes down to is that the old white men of the "I'm Against It" party are starting on Day One to call Sotomayor a racist, because she made a statement once that makes it appear that she believes that her rich background is better than theirs. They can't criticize her beliefs, her talent, her judgment, her background, the breadth of her knowledge, the sharpness of her intellect, they can only think to call her a racist because she's different from them and proud of it.


Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

What it comes down to is that the old white men of the "I'm Against It" party are starting on Day One to call Sotomayor a racist, because she made a statement once that makes it appear that she believes that her rich background is better than theirs.

And they are total hypocrites about it. Read (or listen to) how Alito described his "rich background" and how it would help him make judicial decisions during his Senate confirmation hearings.

Salon reports:

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Judge Samuel Alito's Nomination to the Supreme Court

U.S. SENATOR TOM COBURN (R-OK): 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.

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: Thank you.

You can watch and listen to it at Daily Kos

May 28, 2009 8:59 AM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

I don't recall any Grand Obstructionist Party members objecting to Alito's statement that his own family's immigrant background would influence how he treats cases the come before him involving immigrants, or to his statement that his own children would influence how he treats cases involving children, or to his statement that his family's experiences with ethnic, religious, or gender discrimination would influence his treatment of cases involving those. The GOP had better think twice about alienating more women and Hispanics than they already have or Kos' recent comment will come true and "RNC" will come to mean "Rush, Newt and Cheney" because they'll be all that's left. Either that or they can persist in their hypocritical attacks on Sotomayor's experiences informing her decisions and continue their glub glub glub down the drain.

Rightwing screamers have also been attacking Sotomayor's Supreme Court Record, pointing out 60% of her decisions (3 of 5, with one more pending) that have gone to the Supreme Court have been reversed. They forget that 100% of Alito's decisions (he's 0 for 2) were reversed by the Supreme Court. What they also fail to point out is that in her 11 years in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Sotomayor issued 380 decisions and only 6 have been reviewed by the Supreme Court; all the rest of her decisions stand. Alito, on the other hand, has had many of his decisions reversed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in addition to those that were reversed by the Supreme Court.

May 28, 2009 9:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea-not anon
As someone from politico said today- not going to look good for old white male senators to be attacking a noted jurist who is a Latina- and appointed to the bench by Bush the first. I say- go for it old white male GOPers. Keep chipping away at your support or lack thereof. You go, Newt- someone of your impeccable moral and intellectual background is perfect to be attacking others.

It is obvious that Sotomayor- unless something shocking comes out- will be confirmed. The GOP can only hurt themselves more in trying to "rally the conservative base"(I copied this from the Post) while alienating so many others. Let the games begin!

May 28, 2009 9:22 AM  
Blogger AJ said...

I agree with Sotomayor's statement that her background gives her a different perspective from non-minorities. Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently noted that her fellow male justices couldn't seem to comprehend the difficulties faced by women in the workplace (in the Lilly Ledbetter case, specifically). So there is something to be said for the value of diverse experiences among judges.

However, Sotomayor recently ruled in a case (Ricci v. DeStefano) that many are citing as reverse discrimination. I don't agree with Gingrich and Limbaugh's inflammatory name-calling, but when you read the details of that case, you see how they could make the argument for racism.

May 28, 2009 10:09 AM  
Blogger Tish said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

May 28, 2009 10:15 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

Newt and Rush are working so hard to make the Republican Party a one-race, one-region party. They may succeed.

I'm always amused when Newt and Rush, with their adulterous and criminal backgrounds, accuse anyone of anything.

May 28, 2009 11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea-not anon
Well, Rush is nothing but a media whore- or perhaps a media call boy since he makes a huge amount of money. Newt is shameless in so many ways- nice text/tweet from Auschwitz to add his shandehs. I adore them as poster boys of the New GOP.

May 28, 2009 3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is a two part response:

I spent my lunch hour reading the district court decision (it is very long), the appellate panel decision affirming it, and the 7-6 vote of the full 2d Circuit deciding not to grant full review by the entire 2d Circuit.

This is a situation in which both sides of the controversy have very strong arguments. I am not at all sure which way I would have come out if I were a judge. The plaintiffs have ample reason to be aggrieved. But the City of New Haven had ample reason to be concerned that the test constructed for the firefighter promotion eligibility may not have been a fair test. And the problem was compounded by the fact that, under City Civil Service rules, not everyone who passed the test (9 African Americans and 6 Hispanics did, in fact, pass the test) would be eligible for further consideration. Why? Because, under the City Civil Service rule, only the top three scorers for each slot were eligible, and by following that rule, no African Americans and only two Hispanics were eligible for the 15 vacancies (7 for Captain, 8 for Lieutenant).

Here are the numbers: 118 took the tests. 62 people passed, including 47 whites, 9 African Americans, and 6 Hispanics. Of the 15 minorities who passed the test, only 2 (both Hispanic) would have been eligible to be considered for promotion, due to the City Civil Service rule. So even though 15 minorities passed the test, only 2 could, under the City rule, be considered for one of the 15 slots (7 for Captain and 8 for Lieutenant). If there are any lawyers reading this, these facts may be found at Ricci v. DeStefano, 554 F.Supp.2d 142, 145 (D.Conn. 2006).

May 28, 2009 3:34 PM  
Blogger David S. Fishback said...

Part 2:

The dilemma the City had was that these results were so different from earlier results (when many more minorities were deemed eligible to consideration at the last step), that the City questioned whether the test developed this time was a valid, non-discriminatory test. If the test was not a valid, non-discriminatory test, use of it would have violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

A reasonable person could choose to go either way on this. This is a very tough case, with no obvious correct answer -- particularly since such tests are not an absolute test of ability to do the job. Indeed, much of the testimony before the New Haven Civil Service Board centered around the worthiness of the test itself. And the Civil Service Board vote as to whether to accept the tests was 2-2. Because it deadlocked, under their rules, the promotion process could not proceed.

I also think it is worthwhile to understand that underlying the dispute is the larger problem of the fairness and efficacy of over-reliance on tests, particularly once the test-takers meet the basic requirements. For example, let's say that a top University has a base line score of 1350 on the SATs (the old system with which I am familiar) and will not consider anyone who scores under 1350, on the assumption that anyone who cannot score at least 1350 would not make a good student at that University. That might not make sense if the SAT itself is insufficiently tied to a good prediction of whether a particular applicant will make a contribution to the University and do well there. But the admissions process defect would be compounded if, for an entering class of 200, there were 1500 applicants who scored at least 1350, but only the top 400 applicants (as measured by the SAT) would be considered -- such that, for example, only students scoring 1455 or better would make the second cut. That is essentially the fact scenario in the New Haven case.

The reality is that pencil and paper tests, if well constructed, can provide some useful information to an employer (or college) as to baseline qualifications. But we should not pretend that they tell the whole story when there are many qualified applicants. If that were the case, the library drone who maxes out his/her standardized test scores would always be hired over perhaps better, more well-rounded applicants who score lower on the tests, but who will do better in the real world.

Everyone should show some humility in assessing the Ricci case. The Supreme Court, which heard oral argument in it this spring, may well reverse the Second Circuit. But people of good faith could go either way on this one.

May 28, 2009 3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the Anon who read this case...I'm curious about something. The first thing I thought of when I heard the results of this test was that this could have been a statistical blip -- a mere coincidence that one race did better than another. If they gave this test 100 more times, the statistics might turn out differently. Or, maybe the most motivated test takers just happened to be white this time, but next year, you might have a group of black people that are the most motivated, so the stats would eventually show even distribution.

Was this discussed in the case at all?

May 29, 2009 3:30 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Elections matter and Republicans would do well to remember that fact. It would appear that Pres. Obama has nominated someone that is clearly qualified for the High Court. Republicans can state their concerns and ultimately vote against the nomination (just as Obama did when he was a US Senator), but if they engage in the same sort of behavior that has become standard fare for Democrats (when it comes to such nominations) they will find it blowing up in their face.

The comment by Newt and Rush is indicative of individuals that do not hold public office; what should be more determinative (unless, of course, all the Angry Left wants to do is raise more campaign cash) are the comments by those that will be deciding this nomination. I heard Sen. Hatch a day or two ago on NPR and it was clear to me from his comments that he would not be making such careless comments.

Sotomayor's comment was clearly not racist. The comment though was clearly the result of a mindset wedded to group identity politics.

More than being a latina, Sotomayor's nomination is clearly meant to bring back a gender balance of sorts (made clear with the retirement of Justice O'Conner and her replacement). As best as I recall for a number of years there was a seat that was considered the "Jewish seat"...

Justice Years of Service
Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) 1916-1939
Benjamin Cardozo (1870-1938) 1932-1938
Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965) 1939-1962
Arthur J. Goldberg (1908-1990) 1962-1965
Abe Fortas (1910-1982) 1965-1969
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (b. 1933) 1993-
Stephen Breyer (b. 1938) 1994-

Source: American Jewish Historical Society, American Jewish Desk Reference, (The Philip Leff Group, Inc., 1999), p. 157.

so there is a precedent for having certain seats set aside for this group or that.

Just a few thoughts of my it is time to test ride a new all carbon frame bicycle.

May 30, 2009 1:03 PM  
Anonymous Robert said...


How was the new bike?


May 31, 2009 6:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think she should be "Borked", just to be "fair". Hey, after all, just ask Robert Bork, who had NO such skeletal statements or actions in HIS closet about what happened to him. She is such an obvious racist but hey, that doesn't bother the libs. Let a white male do or say the things she has said and done and watch your fir fly and claws come out. Hipocrytes.

July 13, 2009 9:17 AM  

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