Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke to the interns of the House and Senate in June of 2010. At a Q&A afterwards, she was asked multiple questions from interns on a wide variety of topics including negative law and utilitarianism, conflicts of legal views and personal views, and the Yale/Harvard situation then pending in the court.
One of my former students, a senate intern, got up to ask a question and was the very last one allowed to speak. He asked her "What should American culture and society look to as the source for just laws?" Justice Sotomayor paused, looked at him for a long time, and slowly said, "What a very interesting question." She then looked at my former student again for a very long time. Finally she very slowly said, "I don't think I've ever thought of that question in that form before."
When she finally got around to answering, Justice Sotomayor proceeded to say that when making decisions, she focuses on the dignity of the individual. She then confessed she didn't know how we all would judge; saying that’s just what she focuses on. It was really fascinating for a young intern to hear. It really appeared to him – and to other interns present - that she really had not asked herself that question before. It reminded me of a speech Sotomayor once gave at UC-Berkeley. I now revisit some of her remarks from that speech – not so much for what it says about Sotomayor but for what it says about the future of America under the leadership of a postmodern judiciary:
Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.
This is an important admission on Sotomayor’s behalf. One can imagine how experiences color one’s perception of facts. But is race so central to the judgment of cases that it justifies the avoidance of certain facts altogether? Does race blind us to certain facts? Not according to Sotomayor. It simply justifies the willful disregard of certain facts.