” “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”
– Judge Sonia Sotomayer at a 2002 speech at Cal.
I remember being displeased with President George W. Bush’s selection of Justice Roberts and Alito, and remember being told to “get over it; it’s the president’s call” when Bush did not consult with Democrats on either pick (nor did he consult them about the awful Harriet Myers nomination.
When Alito was nominated, one of his detractors was then Senator Barrack Obama, who said:Â “Though I will reserve judgment on how I will vote on Judge Alito’s nomination until after the hearings, I am concerned that President Bush has wasted an opportunity to appoint a consensus nominee in the mold of Sandra Day O’Connor and has instead made a selection to appease the far right-wing of the Republican Party.”
If you happen to read today’s Letters to the Editor section of today’s OC Register, you’ll come across a number of examples of the talk radio right wing talking abouts about Judge Sotomayer’s “White Man/Latina Woman” quote from her 2002 Berekeley speech that I started this post with; conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Register readers/letter writers, are calling this speechÂ an example of “reservse racism.”Â But I wonder how many of these readers/letter writers and, for that matter, editorial writers, actually read her full speech for context?
Some excerpts from that same speech:
As of September 1, 2001, the federal judiciary consisting of Supreme, Circuit and District Court Judges was about 22% women. In 1992, nearly ten years ago, when I was first appointed a District Court Judge, the percentage of women in the total federal judiciary was only 13%. Now, the growth of Latino representation is somewhat less favorable. As of today we have, as I noted earlier, no Supreme Court justices, and we have only 10 out of 147 active Circuit Court judges and 30 out of 587 active district court judges. Those numbers are grossly below our proportion of the population. As recently as 1965, however, the federal bench had only three women serving and only one Latino judge. So changes are happening, although in some areas, very slowly. These figures and appointments are heartwarming. Nevertheless, much still remains to happen.
Let us not forget that between the appointments of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981 and Justice Ginsburg in 1992, eleven years passed. Similarly, between Justice Kaye’s initial appointment as an Associate Judge to the New York Court of Appeals in 1983, and Justice Ciparick’s appointment in 1993, ten years elapsed. Almost nine years later, we are waiting for a third appointment of a woman to both the Supreme Court and the New York Court of Appeals and of a second minority, male or female, preferably Hispanic, to the Supreme Court. In 1992 when I joined the bench, there were still two out of 13 circuit courts and about 53 out of 92 district courts in which no women sat. At the beginning of September of 2001, there are women sitting in all 13 circuit courts. The First, Fifth, Eighth and Federal Circuits each have only one female judge, however, out of a combined total number of 48 judges. There are still nearly 37 district courts with no women judges at all. For women of color the statistics are more sobering. As of September 20, 1998, of the then 195 circuit court judges only two were African-American women and two Hispanic women. Of the 641 district court judges only twelve were African-American women and eleven Hispanic women. African-American women comprise only 1.56% of the federal judiciary and Hispanic-American women comprise only 1%. No African-American, male or female, sits today on the Fourth or Federal circuits. And no Hispanics, male or female, sit on the Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, District of Columbia or Federal Circuits.
Sort of shocking, isn’t it? This is the year 2002. We have a long way to go. ”
“Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice [Benjamin] 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.
I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations. I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.”
Wow.Â Bet you didn’t see that coming?Â It would be really telling if letter writers and readers of the OC Register (and some of their editorial writers) might actually see the context for whcih the speech was given.
Another part of her speech reminded me of reading Gustavo Arellano’s “Orange County: A Personal History.”
For me, a very special part of my being Latina is the mucho platos de arroz, gandules y pernil – rice, beans and pork – that I have eaten at countless family holidays and special events. My Latina identity also includes, because of my particularly adventurous taste buds, morcilla, — pig intestines, patitas de cerdo con garbanzo — pigs’ feet with beans, and la lengua y orejas de cuchifrito, pigs’ tongue and ears. I bet the Mexican-Americans in this room are thinking that Puerto Ricans have unusual food tastes. Some of us, like me, do. Part of my Latina identity is the sound of merengue at all our family parties and the heart wrenching Spanish love songs that we enjoy. It is the memory of Saturday afternoon at the movies with my aunt and cousins watching Cantinflas, who is not Puerto Rican, but who was an icon Spanish comedian on par with Abbot and Costello of my generation. My Latina soul was nourished as I visited and played at my grandmother’s house with my cousins and extended family. They were my friends as I grew up. Being a Latina child was watching the adults playing dominos on Saturday night and us kids playing loteria, bingo, with my grandmother calling out the numbers which we marked on our cards with chick peas.”