By now you are probably as well versed as I am on the nominees candidacy, since it is all anyone is talking about, so I’ll be brief. Obama has nominated the first Latin@ to the Supreme Court: Sonia Sotomayor. She was first in her graduating class at Princeton, second in her class at Yale, Phi Beta Kappa, and winner of a prestigious award for her skill as a law student. In her career, she has been supported by almost as many Republicans as Democrats including President Bush senior (as in not “W”). With Obama’s nomination, her work has been endorsed by three presidents total: Bush, Clinton, and Obama. Her voting record is decidedly moderate, including supporting limitations on reproductive rights while not being pro-life. And tho Republicans are accusing her of litigating from the bench, their talking point cuts off the statement she made about such behavior at the point when she is explaining that many people do litigate from the bench instead of at the end of the sentence where she concludes this is the wrong choice.
The other major controversy for which she is being criticized is her decision to remove an advancement exam for Firemen in order to allow people of color and women to advance to leadership positions they had been excluded from in the past. The media has been presenting this second issue as if she removed the skills test needed to become a Fireman, but she did not, that was a different case in a different state. Also, neo-conservatives are calling her a “reverse racist” for saying she is better equiped than a white man to judge certain cases and for the firemen decision. Tho her choice of words was not the best, one needs only look back to Ginsburg’s criticism of her fellow judges in the case of a teenage girl stripped searched at her school to see why identity shifts the way one reads legal decisions. Those reads matter in cases where the majority of the court is viewing the case through a gendered or raced experience that does not reflect the reality of the potential victims in the cases. Recgonizing this, is not akin to saying Sotomayor or Ginsburg are privileging certain identities over others or that identity matters more than credentials. Both of these women are qualified for their positions, and Sotomayor has more qualifications than any other judge nominated in the last 9 years. To argue this is an “affirmative action hire” with all of its connotations of “underqualified” and “reverse discrimination” is to ignore her immense credentials and bi-partisan endorsements throughout her career.
These controversies, as well as rumors about her collegiality and intelligence, were first introduced by a journalist who admitted to not having reviewed her voting record or educational background before going to print. He also did not quote any sources willing to go on record. It is likely that if he did not bother to check the background and voting record of the subject of his article, he didn’t check similar information of his “confidential” sources either. The criticisms are largely those that are levied at most women and people of color in positions of power or positions traditionally held by white, heterosexual or closeted cis men.
Ultimately, while this is a win in the sense of diversity on the court and representation for Latin@s, it may not be a win for more idealistic and/or left-thinking members of the democratic party. If Republicans weren’t spending so much time screaming “reverse discrimination” they would note that there are many issues in her record where she has been much closer to the right than the left. Like most Obama apointees to office, Sotomayor is a moderate nothing more and nothing less. So while we deconstruct the racism and sexism involved in questioning her intelligence and fitness for the position, and champion the meaning of a more diverse legislative body, let’s not forget to actually question her politics, voting record, and prior decisions on the bench. If Clarence Thomas didn’t teach us why simply hiring a person b/c of their marginalized identity isn’t enough, I don’t know who can.