The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Judge Sotomayor’

Stereotyping Sotomayor

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 9, 2009

Sotomayor PosterLast week, Situationist Contributor Adam Benforado wrote a second op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer, titled “Stereotypes on Full Display,” about conservative reaction to the Sotomayor nomination.  We’ve pasted it below.

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If you thought race and gender politics were put to rest with the historic presidential campaigns of last year, think again. The excitement and controversy over Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court demonstrate both how far we have come and how far we have to go.

Although Sotomayor has served on the federal bench for 17 years – longer than any incoming justice in the last 100 years – there is little hope that the confirmation process will focus on her judicial record. The order of the day is Sotomayor’s identity as a woman and as a Latina.

Some have suggested that Sotomayor brought this on herself by saying that her background and experiences as a Hispanic woman give her a unique perspective when judging cases.

Yet the isolated snippets of Sotomayor’s remarks that have become so contentious are hard to distinguish from some of the comments made by recent Republican appointees to the Supreme Court. Justice Samuel Alito, for example, explained during his confirmation hearings that when he gets a discrimination case, he takes into account the experiences of people in his “own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender.”

The general thrust of these comments – that personal perspective affects the way judges construe facts – is well-supported in the academic literature. But that has not stopped critics from assailing Sotomayor as an “activist” judge and casting Obama’s call for an empathetic appointee as code for one guided by feelings rather than the law. As freelance Inquirer columnist John Yoo put it in a recent blog post that echoed comments by Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Mitch McConnell, and others, the danger is that Sotomayor will be “voting her emotions.”

Whether deliberate or not, such statements play on stereotypes of women as ruled by hormones, devoid of reason, and lacking the discipline to put aside their feelings and make hard decisions. The same assertions have been raised for centuries to prevent women from taking positions of power outside the home.

In 1872, when Justice Joseph P. Bradley concurred in the Supreme Court’s denial of Myra Bradwell’s admission to the Illinois bar, he justified the result on the grounds that women are naturally ill-suited to be lawyers because they lack the “decision and firmness which are presumed to predominate in the sterner sex.” Almost 100 years later, Edgar F. Berman, Hubert Humphrey’s personal physician and a political adviser to the Democratic Party, argued that women’s “raging hormonal influences” should disqualify them from taking on significant authority roles.

This harmful misperception persists. As one voter told the Irish Independent during the last presidential election, “Hillary Clinton should not be the next president of the United States. Women are emotional. They do not make good political leaders.”

And, as Hillary and numerous female business leaders, law partners, and politicians have discovered, counteracting this misperception through assertiveness brings comparable liabilities. Thus, the latest attempt to galvanize the public against Sotomayor has involved assertions that she lacks the proper judicial “temperament,” as revealed by her purportedly aggressive questioning and combative manner on the bench.

Sotomayor has been called “nasty,” “strident,” and “temperamental.” Whether these assertions have any basis in fact, they seem likely to be used during the confirmation battle to invoke racial stereotypes about “hot-blooded” Latinas and gender stereotypes about aggressive women.

Such criticisms reveal striking inconsistencies. When Justice Antonin Scalia exhibits a caustic demeanor during oral argument or tersely dismisses his colleagues’ positions in his opinions, it is characterized by some as a sign of backbone, toughness, and principle. When similar behavior is attributed to Sotomayor, it is seen as revealing the flawed traits of her type.

Sotomayor’s colleagues on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals have strongly denied the accusations about Sotomayor’s confrontational demeanor, suggesting that her behavior has been identical to that of other members of the court. According to Judge Guido Calabresi, the commentary about Sotomayor’s behavior on the bench has clearly reflected prejudice. “Some lawyers just don’t like to be questioned by a woman,” he said. “It was sexist, plain and simple.”

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You can link to the the op-ed here.  To read Adam’s first op-ed on the topic (co-authored with Situationist Contributor Jon Hanson), see The Situation of Judicial Activism,” containg links to still other related Situationist posts.  For a sample of posts discussing gender stereotypes, click here.

Posted in Ideology, Politics, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The News Situation of Judge Sotomayor’s Nomination

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 26, 2009

SCOTUS StatueAs the the media quickly responds to news of Judge Sotomayor’s nomination, we thought it might be interesting to include some excerpts from a few different sources.

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From Fox News:

President Obama nominated federal Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, citing her “inspiring life story” and “distinguished career” in his decision.

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The president, in his announcement, said he was looking for a justice with a “common touch and a sense of compassion” as well as experience and depth of knowledge. He said Sotomayor, who grew up in a Bronx housing project and has an extensive judicial background, would come to the Supreme Court bench with more varied experience than anyone currently on the court when they were appointed.

Sotomayor, who said she was “deeply moved” by the president’s decision, called herself an “ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.”

Obama called Sotomayor an “inspiring woman who I believe will be a great justice.”

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Sotomayor’s selection indicates that Obama is interested in diversifying the court. If she is confirmed, Sotomayor will become the third woman to be a Supreme Court justice, and she will join Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the current court.

Obama had said he was looking for a nominee who demonstrates empathy and “intellectual fire power,” as well as possesses the “common touch.” The president on Tuesday described Sotomayor, a judge for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, as someone who fits these criteria.

She is the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, and she was raised in a Bronx housing project. She has dealt with diabetes since age 8 and lost her father at age 9, growing up under the care of her mother. Sotomayor supposedly became interested in law after watching the TV show “Perry Mason.”

She graduated from Princeton University and earned her law degree from Yale University. Sotomayor was appointed a federal district court judge in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush and then elevated to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton. At that time, Republicans held up her confirmation, but she eventually passed the Senate 68-28.

Tuesday’s selection drew swift praise from liberals like the Rev. Al Sharpton, who called the choice “prudent” and “groundbreaking.” New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrats from Sotomayor’s home state, also praised the pick and released a letter they wrote to Obama earlier in the month recommending her as an “excellent selection.”

Souter generally sided with the liberal wing of the high court, so Obama’s selection would not tilt the ideological balance of the body. But Sotomayor was considered one of the most liberal of Obama’s potential nominees, and she could set off a fight from the right during confirmation — even though Republicans are far outnumbered on Capitol Hill.

“This is not a bipartisan, consensus pick,” one senior GOP Senate leadership aide told FOX News.

As an appellate judge, she sided with the city of New Haven, Conn., in a discrimination case brought by white firefighters after the city threw out results of a promotion exam because two few minorities scored high enough. Ironically, that case is now before the Supreme Court.

A YouTube video of Sotomayor speaking at Duke University about what some interpreted as judicial activism also stirred controversy.

In the video, she said: “All of the legal defense funds out there, they’re looking for people with court of appeals experience” because “the court of appeals is where policy is made.”

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“Senate Republicans will treat Judge Sotomayor fairly,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a written statement. “But we will thoroughly examine her record to ensure she understands that the role of a jurist in our democracy is to apply the law even-handedly, despite their own feelings or personal or political preferences.”

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From the New York Times:

President Obama announced on Tuesday that he will nominate the federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, choosing a daughter of Puerto Rican parents raised in Bronx public housing projects to become the nation’s first Hispanic justice.

Judge Sotomayor, who stood next to the president during the announcement, was described by Mr. Obama as “an inspiring woman who I am confident will make a great justice.”

The president said he had made his decision after “deep reflection and careful deliberation,” and he made it clear that the judge’s inspiring personal story was crucial in his decision. Mr. Obama praised his choice as someone possessing “a rigorous intellect, a mastery of the law.”

But those essential qualities are not enough, the president said. Quoting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mr. Obama said, “The life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience.” It is vitally important that a justice know “how the world works, and how ordinary people live,” the president said.

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“My heart today is bursting with gratitude for all that you have done for me,” she said to her family, describing her selection as “the most humbling honor of my life.”

“I stand on the shoulders of countless people,” she said. But towering above all, she said, is her mother, who raised her alone after her father died. “I am all I am because of her,” Judge Sotomayor said, “and I am only half the woman she is.”

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Initial reaction to the selection reflected party divisions and signaled that Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee would be spirited.

“Her record is exemplary,” said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee. “Judge Sotomayor’s nomination is an historic one, and when confirmed she will become the first Hispanic justice, and just the third woman to sit on the nation’s highest court. Having a Supreme Court that better reflects the diversity of America helps ensure that we keep faith with the words engraved in Vermont marble over the entrance of the Supreme Court: ‘Equal justice under law.’”

Another Democrat on the panel, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, was also enthusiastic. “Her outstanding legal mind, and her compelling life experience, is just the combination this court needs in its next justice,” Mr. Schumer said.

But early Republican reaction was decidedly lukewarm. “Republicans will reserve judgment on Sonia Sotomayor until there has been a thorough and thoughtful examination of her legal views,” said Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

And Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “Because Judge Sotomayor would serve for life if she is confirmed, it is essential that the Senate conducts this process thoroughly, and the President has assured me that we will have ample time to give Ms. Sotomayor’s record a full and fair review.”

Mr. Cornyn said the nominee “must prove her commitment to impartially deciding cases based on the law, rather than based on her own personal politics, feelings, and preferences.”

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From MSNBC (video – roughly 10 minutes):

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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From Mike Huckabee’s Website:

The appointment of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court is the clearest  indication yet that President Obama’s campaign promises to be a centrist and think in a bi-partisan way were mere rhetoric. Sotomayor comes from the far left and will likely leave us with something akin to the “Extreme Court” that could mark a major shift. The notion that appellate court decisions are to be interpreted by the “feelings” of the judge is a direct affront of the basic premise of our judicial system that is supposed to apply the law without personal emotion. If she is confirmed, then we need to take the blindfold off Lady Justice.

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For a recent, related Situationist post, see Adam Benforado and Jon Hanson’s “The Situation of Judicial Activism,” which contains link to still more related posts.

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