Sotomayor’s Problem Isn’t That She’s Too Latina

OI don’t know at this point whether Judge Sonia Sotomayor is a good choice for Supreme Court Justice or a bad one.

She certainly is a lousy judge for writers and other creative people, having ruled (and been overruled by an appellate court and then, when that reversal was upheld, by the US Supreme Court in a case called New York Times Inc. v. Tasini) that the Times and periodical publishers could reprint, without any additional compensation, any freelance works they contracted on the basis that they had a general copyright on each entire issue they publish.

And she appears to have rarely met an insurance company that she didn’t feel was more deserving of court succor than any insured person suing an insurer. In a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer,  reporter Joseph N. DiStefano quotes an insurance attorney named Randy Maniloff as saying that in cases involving insurance companies and insurance policyholders “It’s insurers by a landslide.”  Such a pro-corporate position would put her in league with the Roberts/Alito/Scalia/Thomas wing of the court, and would be consistant with her pro-corporate stance vis-à-vis writers and artists and copyright law. (In fairness, Sotomayor did rule against an insurance firm and in favor of a policyholder’s family in 2005.)

Having said that Sotomayor shows a disturbing pro-corporate stance in her past rulings, I have to say that the freak-out on the right over Sotomayor’s comments regarding the impact of her being female and Latina on her decisions as a jurist is the height of nonsense and hypocrisy. To watch them frothing, you would think that she was a latter-day William O. Douglass, which is hardly the case.

What Sotomayor said that has the right in a lather was:

“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.”

She made that comment at a lecture in Berkeley in 2001, but it came following this earlier statement:

“Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences…our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure….that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise…”

She went on to note:

“Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case.”

The point is, as long as we have an unequal society, in which some people are denied equal treatment because of race or religion or gender, and we clearly have that type of society in America today, the people from those discriminated-against groups are bound to see the world in a different way than do most white males.

But the elite—the white male editors and TV commentators, the white male politicians, and the white male public—don’t see their own decisions as rooted in their white male expereience. They see their experience as being “normal” and “unbiased.”  It is, to them, only others who are not “normal” like them who are biased, or or who are carrying some kind of chip on their shoulders.

What Sotomayor was saying at Berkeley was simply a fact of life: as a Latina woman, and hopefully as a women who grew up in a poor, working-class, fatherless family, she is going to view the world differently than the white male and even black male or white female colleagues who currently constitute the members of the US Supreme Court. If this were not so, there would be no need to have women on the court at all, or African Americans.

That is obviously ridiculous.

White upper-class males on the court for a century saw nothing wrong with slavery being inflicted on black people, nor did they see anything wrong with denying the vote to people who didn’t own property. White males on the court for a century and a half saw nothing wrong with women not having the vote. For two centuries they saw nothing wrong with white governments using Jim Crow laws to prevent blacks from voting, either. (Many of them still see nothing wrong with such legal obstructionism.)

There are plenty of reasons to oppose President Barack Obama’s appointment of Sotomayor to the Supreme Court—she is not a particularly profound Constitutional scholar and she has a record of accommodating corporate interests at the expense of individuals—but her acknowledging that being female and Latina may have a positive impact on her judicial decisions is not one of them.

If she is confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice later this year, as appears likely, one can only hope that she will allow her decisions to be informed by that background, and that she will not just become another  one of “the boys” on the bench.

DAVE LINDORFF  is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at dlindorff@mindspring.com



More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

March 22, 2018
Rob Okun
Students: Time is Ripe to Add Gender to Gun Debate
Michael Barker
Tory Profiteering in Russia and Putin’s Debt of Gratitude
March 21, 2018
Paul Street
Time is Running Out: Who Will Protect Our Wrecked Democracy from the American Oligarchy?
Mel Goodman
The Great Myth of the So-Called “Adults in the Room”
Chris Floyd
Stumbling Blocks: Tim Kaine and the Bipartisan Abettors of Atrocity
Eric Draitser
The Political Repression of the Radical Left in Crimea
Patrick Cockburn
Erdogan Threatens Wider War Against the Kurds
John Steppling
It is Us
Thomas Knapp
Death Penalty for Drug Dealers? Be Careful What You Wish for, President Trump
Manuel García, Jr.
Why I Am a Leftist (Vietnam War)
Isaac Christiansen
A Left Critique of Russiagate
Howard Gregory
The Unemployment Rate is an Inadequate Reporter of U.S. Economic Health
Ramzy Baroud
Who Wants to Kill Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah?
Roy Morrison
Trouble Ahead: The Trump Administration at Home and Abroad
Roger Hayden
Too Many Dead Grizzlies
George Wuerthner
The Lessons of the Battle to Save the Ancient Forests of French Pete
Binoy Kampmark
Fictional Free Trade and Permanent Protectionism: Donald Trump’s Economic Orthodoxy
Rivera Sun
Think Outside the Protest Box
March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
John Pilger
Skripal Case: a Carefully-Constructed Drama?
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks