Women and Politics

A blog from WCF about the state of women and politics

Sonia Sotomayor: recent attacks and double standards

I know that every Supreme Court nominee will be vetted extensively and raked over the coals by the opposing side. Many groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America opposed the confirmation of Justice Alito based on his anti-choice record. However, it seems that the opposition to Sotomayor is getting pretty creative in their attempt to question her qualifications.

Despite the fact that she “would bring more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in 100 years,” many have still attempted to question her judicial experience. When that angle failed, they pounced on something she said in 2001 during a conference about race and gender:

“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.”

White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett called this attack a double standard, citing what Samuel Alito said in 2005 about his own background influencing his decisions:

“When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.”

It’s simply a statement of fact to say that a judge’s (or anyone, for that matter) background will influence their decisions. It’s sociology. However, the word “better” has people questioning her ability to separate personal experience from law. They’re afraid of “judicial activism” and (gasp) empathy – just like what past male judges have expressed, and weren’t slammed for it.

As Slate.com points out, we should also consider that Ruth Bader Ginsburg has recently discussed how her gender affects her legal decisions. Simply, a woman understands things that a man cannot.

of Slate.com goes on to examine social science, and raises an interesting idea:

“…in order to succeed in a white man’s world, women must learn to see both sides in ways that men do not. If that is true, it just might make them “better” judges, at least in some circumstances.

Since our population is made up of different genders and ethnicities, it seems necessary to ensure all backgrounds are accounted for in order to reach fair legal decisions. And some may see having equal representation as being “better” than having only one group represented.

And finally, the most recent attack on Sotomayor is almost laughable: she’s a member of a professional women’s group. Yes, some senators were afraid her membership in the Belizean Grove would violate Judicial Conduct, which prohibits them participating in any group which discriminates by race, sex, religion or nationality.

So now women trying to overcome sexism to succeed are practicing sex discrimination? Let’s not forget that Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg belong to the International Women’s Forum.

People joining groups that help to overcome the obstacles of sexism and racism aren’t practicing discrimination, I promise you.

What will be the next attack against Sotomayor? Will you just come out and say that a smart, experienced Latina scares you? Somehow I doubt it.

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