In his first Supreme Court appointment, President Barack Obama has chosen to take America a step backward. He has been applauded -- again and again -- for choosing a woman of Puerto Rican heritage, Sonia Sotomayor, a Bronx-born federal judge, for the Court ... largely because she is a woman of Puerto Rican heritage.
I'm not interested in belittling Sotomayor's accomplishments. Certainly, less-qualified lawyers have been nominated to the Court in the past. But her selection perpetuates a damaging type of identity politics in judicial selection. There is not a "woman's seat" on the Court: when Ruth Bader Ginsburg retires from the bench, she does not have to be replaced by a female -- or, for that matter, by a Jewish person or a former ACLU lawyer (all bills she fits). Nor will Clarence Thomas have to be replaced by a black man or Anthony Kennedy by a white Catholic male.
The next justice to possibly join the highest court in the land once said, "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."
President Obama, whom we are all to believe is a transformational force on matters of race, agrees with the above statement. His standard for nominating justices is this: empathy, and maybe some political capital with an interest group. This is not transformation -- it's not even progress.
A court with nine white males or nine Hispanic women might not look like America -- but, depending on the character and intelligence of the particular judges, it might well do a good job of representing America.
Sotomayor is right when she says: "America has a deeply confused image of itself that is in perpetual tension. We are a nation that takes pride in our ethnic diversity, recognizing its importance in shaping our society and in adding richness to its existence." But cultural distinction alone should not be the primary requirement for serving on the Supreme Court; Sotomayor's Hispanic background should not make her a shoo-in -- just as the fact that Nancy Pelosi is the first female House speaker should not make her any less accountable for her words and actions than a male speaker.
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