Within minutes of President Obama naming Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his pick to replace Justice David Souter at the Supreme Court, I received a call from my father in Puerto Rico wanting to know what I thought. “Well, Dad,” I started to respond. “She’s from Puerto Rico, you know,” he interjected. That’s when I knew I needed to write about this issue.
Being a Hispanic woman does not qualify Judge Sotomayor to be a Supreme Court Justice. Yes, her story is inspiring to all Americans, especially Hispanics, not to mention Puerto Ricans, but we have to be very careful that we not take it too far. We cannot support someone for a position just because she is “one of us.”
A Hispanic woman judicial activist is just as bad as any other judicial activist. A conservative judicial activist is just as bad as a liberal judicial activist. The requirements for being a judge are still the same whatever your race, gender, or economic status. Judges should be men and women of integrity who respect the laws and the Constitution as written and who will resist the temptation to legislate from the bench.
Even President Obama has apparently come to see the light. In his speech naming Judge Sotomayor as his nominee, he said one of the requirements for a judge is the “recognition of the limits of the judicial role, an understanding that a judge’s job is to interpret, not make, law.”
The problem for the President and Sotomayor is that there are legitimate doubts about her in this area. Judge Sotomayor must defend her record and must explain statements she has made, such as her claim that the “court of appeals is where policy is made.” Even worse, immediately after expressing that distorted view of the judicial role, she added, “I know this is on tape, and I should never say that because we don’t make law.”
It would seem that making policy isn’t the problem for Sotomayor; it’s the fact that she’s admitting it out loud. That is the issue here, not where she comes from or how she got here.
Many suggest it would be “difficult” to oppose Sotomayor because she is a Hispanic woman. Hispanics should reject such an incoherent and offensive notion and intelligently articulate why they support or oppose her regardless of her race.
Unfortunately, Sotomayor has personally contributed to this shameful idea by giving a speech arguing that ethnicity and gender “may and will make a difference in our judging.” She 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.”
Talk about demeaning. I guess all Supreme Court Justices should be “wise Latina women.” Then they would reach a better conclusion, at least according to Sotomayor.
But that really brings another issue to the forefront that has been lurking behind the language used by many, including the President. It is a fallacy to believe that you are “empathetic” simply because you are a minority. Of course, the unspoken message behind it is that if you are a white man, you don’t really “get it.”
Since when is being a minority a pre-requisite to having empathy? Why is a Hispanic’s perspective somehow better than others? How is thinking that your perspective is better because of your race empathetic?
That type of thinking requires us to do some more digging into Judge Sotomayor’s views. For example, if two defendants have committed the exact same crime under the exact same set of facts, is one supposed to get a longer jail term because he is white and came from wealthy parents, while the other deserves a second chance and softer treatment because he is a minority and has had a rough upbringing?
We all have limited perspectives, and only through humility can anyone properly approach the incredibly difficult task of being a judge. Judge Sotomayor needs to show that humility.
I call on all Americans, whatever your background, to engage in a meaningful discussion about the qualifications, character, judicial temperament, and judicial philosophy of Judge Sotomayor.
Let us articulate our views respectfully and make our views heard to our Senators. But let us not take the bait from those who would try to manipulate us through pride and emotion.
Hispanics can be proud of Sotomayor’s story and accomplishments and still disagree with her judicial philosophy and even oppose her, just as African-Americans can be proud of this country for moving past race to elect President Obama and yet disagree with his policies and even vote against him.