Judge Sonia Sotomayor: Not 'White' And Not Male, Simply An Expert In U.S. Law

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pink calculator & spectacles caseSonia Sotomayor is the lawyer and judge who has been nominated by President Barack Obama to fill the vacancy on the bench of the American Supreme Court. This week Judge Sotomayor has been grilled at a senate hearing about her suitability for the post. She is also Hispanic and a woman. This it seems gives rise to fears by interrogating Senators that her judgements may differ from those made previously.

Social Inclusion & Diversity

The hearings on whether Sonia Sotomayor should become an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court have been both predictable and in some ways depressing: her eleven inquisitors include just two women and the dialogue has reflected this.

Obama's broad church
On the other hand President Obama, in nominating Judge Sotomayor, has demonstrated again (as he has with other appointments, such as that of Hillary Rodham Clinton to the post of Secretary of State) that he intends his administration to be a broad church, inclusive of the talents of people of many sorts.

It's interesting that Sonia Sotomayor was able, in sworn evidence, to affirm that the President did not ask her personal views on matters such as abortion and gun control - issues which persistently appear in every hearing for appointments to the Supreme Court. Nor, apparently, do Sotomayor and Obama agree about the relevance or otherwise of 'empathy' in legal judgement (she says she puts it aside; he sees it as relevant).

The obstacles of gender and ethnicity - and class?
It looks increasingly likely that Judge Sotomayor's appointment will be confirmed. After the usual party political jostling, significant Republicans on the panel have indicated they will not oppose her nomination.

But why, and how, do these people think it appropriate to suggest that Sonia Sotomayor's gender and ethnicity are critical issues which might mitigate in the future against fair and transparent interpretation of the law?

Sotomayor's personal background is not unlike that of Obama; her early life, living in public housing in the Bronx, was uncompromisingly unprivileged. Perhaps social class also plays an unacknowledged part here. The Republicans amongst the Senators grilling her are not of the Grand Old Party (GOP) for nothing.

Privileged white men
But surely even they can see that the Supreme Court has thus far been an enclave of privileged white men? In its entire history it has been administered by 111 justices, only two of them so far women (the majority of the population), and none Hispanic (the fastest growing ethnic group in the USA).

Perhaps the Supreme Court has always adhered to interpretation of the law, with no fear or favour (though frightening statistics on what sorts of criminals are not excused judicial slaughter, for instance, might suggest otherwise).

But as far as I can tell, not many of these white, male, privileged nominations for the Supreme Court have been quizzed for days and days about whether their personal demographic provenance will endanger justice for all US citizens.

Politics and competencies
Assurances of propriety and competence are essential before any Supreme Court justice is appointed. Party political posturing is inescapably part of the game.

It's a ritual of Supreme Court nomination that questions have to be asked about every imaginable variable, and that Senators at the hearing go to extraordinary lengths not to set procedural precedence which they may later find uncomfortable.

Striking failures of insight
But, glaring omissions of insight about how and by what sorts of people the US law and constitution have been determined in the past.....?

Small wonder during her inquisition that Judge Sotomayor has stuck unservingly to the position simply that: "The task of a judge is not to make law. It is to apply the law."

I'm not a US citizen, but I am a citizen of a country which, like the US, seeks, in however flawed a way, to achieve fairness and equality. That fundamental - and perhaps intended? - apparent omission of insight on the part of Sonia Sotomayor's inquisitors I find downright bizarre.


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