Thomas Sowell

In Washington, the clearer a statement is, the more certain it is to be followed by a "clarification" when people realize what was said. The clearly racist comments made by Judge Sonia Sotomayor on the Berkeley campus in 2001 have forced the spinmasters to resort to their last-ditch excuse, that it was "taken out of context."

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If that line is used during Judge Sotomayor's Senate confirmation hearings, someone should ask her to explain just what those words mean when taken in context.

What could such statements possibly mean-- in any context-- other than the new and fashionable racism of our time, rather than the old-fashioned racism of earlier times? Racism has never done this country any good, and it needs to be fought against, not put under new management for different groups.

Looked at in the context of Judge Sotomayor's voting to dismiss the appeal of white firefighters who were denied the promotions they had earned by passing an exam, because not enough minorities passed that exam to create "diversity," her words in Berkeley seem to match her actions on the judicial bench in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals all too well.

The Supreme Court of the United States thought that case was important enough to hear it, even though the three-judge panel on which Judge Sotomayor served gave it short shrift in less than a page. Apparently the famous "empathy" that President Obama says a judge should have does not apply to white males in Judge Sotomayor's court.

The very idea that a judge's "life experiences" should influence judicial decisions is as absurd as it is dangerous.

It is dangerous because citizens are supposed to obey the law, which means they must know what the law is in advance-- and nobody can know in advance what the "life experiences" of whatever judge they might appear before will happen to be.

It is absurd because it flies in the face of the facts. It was a fellow Puerto Rican judge on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals-- Jose Cabranes-- who rebuked his judicial colleagues for the cavalier way they dismissed the white firefighters' case.

On the Supreme Court, the justice whose life story is most like that of Sonia Sotomayor-- Clarence Thomas-- has a very different judicial philosophy from hers.

The clever people in the media and elsewhere are saying that "inevitably" one's background influences how one feels about issues. Even if that were true, judges are not supposed to decide cases based on their personal feelings.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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