Sunday, May 31, 2009

White Men - and Justice Sotomayor

"Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice 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 Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also 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. Second, 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.

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. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."

I am a White Man, now 58 years old. I grew up in an environment which was heavily White and Upper-Middle Class. I can imagine Some White Men who may have experienced Some of what it might take to understand (better than I can) the life experiences of Women and People of Color. One former classmate grew up as the sole boy in a household with five sisters. Even with that experience, I doubt that he would say he "knew" what it meant to be "female".

Where White People grow up as a small minority (ethnically) in a community dominated by People of Color they may have perceptions of Race that May faintly be similar to what People of Color such as Justice Sotomayor has experienced. At the same time they would still face the realities that "Whiteness" is valued in our society.

Most Senators such as Lindsay Graham [, who has recently strongly criticized Sotomayor's statement (and asked her to apologize/renounce it): "Second, 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.", ]have not grown up in worlds where they logically would know and understand what it means to be poor, Of Color (or if Male) of being Female.

Reading part of Sotomayor's words (quoted above) I find her statement most understandable and logical! I can accept that Sotomayor may pose a "threat" to many. I can not however, accept that that "threat" is not a "good one" and one which - we White Men - readily deserve.

One need not agree with all of Sotomayor's words or positions to respect her and accept her as a good choice to be one of nine Supreme Court justices. It will be interesting to watch the Republican Senators - tip toe around - the issues of the nomination over the next 1-2 months. I have no doubt that as many as 20-30 of them will vote against her nomination. I will be surprised, however, if they try to filibuster. IF they do I would be shocked to find all the Republicans sticking together and/or any Democrats supporting the filibuster. It will also be interesting to see if the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee stick together and block a vote before the summer recess.


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