I find all the fuss about Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s pick as the replacement for the outgoing Justice David Souter, very interesting. The fuss is over how objective she could possibly be because she is a Hispanic woman who grew up in the Bronx (clearly a first for the high court). Republican Senator Jeff Session proclaims, “Although we sometimes take our heritage of neutral and independent judiciary for granted, the truth is, this great tradition is under attack.”
How does Sotomayor’s nomination for the Supreme Court constitute an attack on its integrity and tradition? Well, Sotomayor is supposed to be the exception, and the exception proves the rule. What’s the rule? The rule is that Supreme Court justices, who have all been white men with four exceptions, are neutral and completely independent thinkers. Sotomayor, because she is not a white man, is an attack on this rule (just as Justice Ginsburg was before her).
(A political cartoon appearing in an Oklahoman newspaper on June 2.)
Had President Obama nominated a white man, there would be no question about what kind of impartiality he would bring to the court because of skin color or sex. There was certainly no question when John Roberts was nominated by President Bush in 2005. So the latent assumption is that white men, perhaps by virtue, bring no subjectivity because they are white or because they are men. For the people who make this assumption, including the media, it never even crosses their minds that white men also have lived experiences that influence the way they think, what kind of assumptions they make, their perspectives, and ultimately how they judge. That Sotomayor’s lived experiences are not at all similar to the white man’s is frightening to them. They see it as an “attack,” an affront on justice.
What I find truly frightening is how broadly these beliefs are accepted.