July 16th, 2009
I’ve watched no more of the Sotomayor hearings than has happened to be on while I’ve waited for the guy behind the counter to toast my bagel, and things like that. I don’t see much point in watching them, since it’s pretty easy to predict what her critics are going to ask her and say about her, and not terribly interesting to hear her answers.
But I do want to say something about this “wise Latina” thing, if I can do so without boring myself as well as you to death.
With very few exceptions, all Supreme Court justices, ever, have been white men. So have most other judges in the U.S. That means that someone, somewhere along the line, felt that white men make wiser decisions than people who are not white men. Maybe closer to “everyone” than “someone”, in fact.
White male jurists never have to say anything public to the effect that white males as wiser, as jurists, than people who aren’t white males, because it’s been said for them. It’s been said by virtually every President who has made judicial appointments and nominations, every Senator on whom the strangely homogenous pattern has not weighed heavily, and every citizen who never considered withholding a vote from the perpetrators of this centuries-long exercise in exclusion.
In short, the entire history of the Supreme Court and much of the rest of the judiciary amounts to a sustained assertion that white men make wiser decisions than anyone else.
So along came Sotomayor, and expressed a different opinion. She expressed an opinion that was not the opinion on which the entire history of the Supreme Court has been predicated. She espoused the belief that white men do not, in every imaginable case, make wiser judges.
How dare she?!
Doesn’t she realize that The Universal Opinion on this subject has already been established?
Of course it’s the same old thing. The belief that white males are wiser is so widespread, so ingrained, so taken for granted, that it seems natural. You don’t have to think about it; your thinking has been done for you. And you don’t have to be so gauche as to say that you believe it, because as long as you don’t saying anything, it will be assumed that that’s what you think.
All Sotomayor did was to respond. She was responding to history. History was saying—loudly, repeatedly, in chorus echoing down the centuries—that white men make wiser jurists. Sotomayor said: maybe not, under some circumstances.
Think of it this way. Sotomayor walks down the street every day, her whole life, and every couple of blocks, somebody says to her: White male jurists make wiser decisions than anyone else. Senators say it; Supreme Court justices say it. Citizens say it; Presidents say it.
After a lifetime of that, Sotomayor says: well, not necessarily.
And everyone gets mad at her.
The every-couple-of-blocks thing represents about one millionth of one percent of what Sotomayor, and the rest of us, have actually had communicated to us over our lifetimes. So why the hell shouldn’t she respond? And why are people treating her like Oliver Twist asking for more gruel?