Sonia Sotomayor is a wonderful role model. Truly. Through hard work, brains and rare self-discipline at an early age, she was able to overcome poverty and family dysfunction to become what she is today. She was diagnosed at the age of 7 with Type 1 diabetes, and because her father was an alcoholic and her mother a full-time nurse, it fell to her to manage the daily insulin injections and testing that are part of the required treatment. The image, in her memoir, of a small girl dragging a chair to the stove so she could sterilize her syringes before school is poignant indeed.
Any person attempting to overcome hardship can look to Sotomayor for inspiration. But as she demonstrated in her long, impassioned dissent in the case of Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, the experience of benefiting from race preferences has left her prickly and defensive on the subject. As others, including her Supreme Court colleague Justice Clarence Thomas, have argued, that kind of gnawing insecurity is one of the consequences of preferences. Others are never sure if you've achieved your position entirely on merit, and neither are you.
Sotomayor's argument rests entirely on a fallacy -- that lowering admission standards for certain minority applicants is the only possible response to concerns about racial and ethnic disparities in American life. "Race matters," she scolded again and again in her dissent. Actually, she went further and argued that a Michigan constitutional amendment that explicitly forbids racial discrimination amounts to racial discrimination.
The contention that white, Asian and other students should be disadvantaged because of discrimination against blacks that ceased decades before they were born is facially unjust. Under the regime of preferences, the white child of a poor waitress from Scranton, Pennsylvania, who would be the first person in her family to ever attend college, will have to get SAT scores about 300 points higher (depending upon the school) than the black daughter of a dermatologist from Beverly Hills, California. An Asian student would have to score even higher, because that minority is, according to those who insist on counting by race, "overrepresented."