28 May 2009
That Was Then, This Is Now
"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," said Sonia Sotomayor, the current nominee to fill a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court. I would have hoped for a nominee wise enough not to say such things. But let’s parse the statement just a little, shall we? What Sotomayor was saying effectively was that she, as a Latina woman, was more capable of understanding and making rulings because of her minority bloodlines and standing. Imagine a white male making the same statement and you instantly understand why this is offensive. Sonia Sotomayor made this statement as part of the Judge Mario G. Olmos Memorial Lecture in 2001, delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. It was reprinted in the Spring 2002 issue of Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, a symposium issue entitled "Raising the Bar: Latino and Latina Presence in the Judiciary and the Struggle for Representation." Okay, those are ready recipients, glad to hear good tidings about their particular minority. But since previous white male nominees haven’t published articles suggesting their superiority in the “White Person’s Law Review,” perhaps this wasn’t the wisest of choices. In the last election, we voted in the first minority President of the United States. And we then hotly argued that he was not elected because of his race. We were all about change, as a culture, we said. So maybe if it isn’t about race, we should stop talking about race. I’m not suggesting this was the right statement to make. But perhaps to a group of law school students, it was a reasonable statement for the time. Perhaps it was in keeping with the culture just eight short years ago. Could we have come so far fast enough that our statements, acceptable (and even "encouraging" to a minority audience in need of encouragement during their college years) just eight years ago, are questionable now? If it’s not about race anymore, we need to stop making it about race.