Sotomayor: Affirmative Action and Ginsberg

ginsburg_ap_163In a rare happening, a Supreme Court Nominee receives advance praise and welcome from sitting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. This a high compliment coming from the only woman currently on the court and one of the four remaining Justices we can count on to uphold the ruling to legalize abortion, Roe v. Wade. And, it should be noted that Ginsberg has mentioned more than once the importance of women justices on the court because they bring a perspective very different from male justices. Yet, still airing on the side of caution, we cannot logically deduce any of Sonia Sotomayor’s legal opinions on the right to privacy or on the legality of a woman’s right to choose from this casual endorsement. Bummer. 

In other news, with the Supreme Court nomination hearings due to start July 14, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says a filibuster is still an option on the table. With Al Franken’s race for Senate still held up in ballot recounts, the Democratic Senate is one senator shy of the 60 votes needed to block a filibuster. The Republican Party strategy for Sotomayor seems to be to postpone the approval of her nomination for as long as possible. At the very latest, we will need a replacement for Justice Souter’s seat by October when he will officially leave his post and the new annual session begins. Presumably, the GOP aims to stall while searching for more, or any, evidence against her that she is pro-choice, pro-gay, or just generally “empathetic” towards people she does not know. 

What is the latest outrage by the GOP against Sotomayor? Calling her a racist wasn’t good enough? Just as President Obama was degraded by republicans for being a political organizer, Sotomayor may now be raked over the coals for being an advocate of affirmative action. In 1994, Sotomayor is quoted promoting affirmative action, saying, “I am a product of affirmative action… I am the perfect affirmative action baby.” She also later acknowledges that she has also benefited from having her test scores overlooked, and admits that before attending Princeton and Yale, she probably did not have the highest score compared to all the applicants. With all the praise Sotomayor receives from respected members of today’s legal and scholarly communities, it cannot be said Sotomayor did not have the potential to become the accomplished doctor of jurisprudence she is today. And it makes one wonder: without an admissions committee slightly overlooking her scores, would Sotomayor have had the opportunity to be the first Latina, and third woman nominated to the Supreme Court?   

The case being used as fodder for republicans to hastily label Sotomayor, a “racist,” involves 20 firefighters (19 white, 1 latino) in New Haven, Connecticut who sued the city for discrimination when test scores on a promotional test were thrown out because no black firefighters passed the test. The city’s reasoning for dismissing the test results was fear of litigation from every black firefighter who failed the test. First of all, I commend the city of New Haven for having the wits to notice how the pass/fail divide fell completely upon the lines of white and black. This may seem like an obvious detail, but throughout the history of our nation, authorities have often ignored stark disparities in education, economy, law, etc. that break down solely around race.

Even 25 years later, one of the white firefighters is still in litigation and claims he was passed up for a promotion based on “reverse discrimination.” The Supreme Court will hear this case, Ricci v. DeStefano by the end of June this year. The case, where Sotomayor and her panel of judges ruled in favor of the city’s dismissal of test results, will surely be used by Republicans in the Senate to accuse Sotomayor of racist attitudes and an assumed affinity for the “quotas” claimed to be promoted by affirmative action. 

The party of NO is also saying no to empathy. If that isn’t a death wish, I dont know what is. However, it remains to be seen how the Democrats will counter or if they will at all. The outrage over Sotomayor being labeled a “racist” has not been well received by the public, and overall it seems the American public is smarter than the hatred spewing from Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh.  

Life is a place of eternal change and chance. It would be a shame to think where I would be if no one ever took a chance on me. I am a healthy, white, middle class woman who flits through life pretty easily. I pass in most social circles and because of this realize the extent of my own privilege. However, I have also been discriminated against based on my gender, age, and those I have dated. As a young woman I am cognizant of the occaisions in which authority figures have taken a chance on me. Fresh out of college, a new employer had to take a chance on me because I had a degree but no work experience except bussing tables. Even getting into college, I did not have top grades in my class, and I did not have stockpiles of community service hours. But if a university hadn’t taken a chance on me, and if a graduate institution hadn’t taken a chance on me, an employer at a successful non-profit may never have hired me for a job I had no tangible experience, save my references from my afore-mentioned education. My old boss took a chance on me, and I am grateful for my chance to learn and succeed. If a young, white woman like me has to count on an employer or admission board to take a chance on me, how much harder is it for a woman or man of color with similar experiences to convince another to take a chance on them?

I’m not talking about a hand out, just a leg-up. We all need support and we all need a boost to jump start our motor now and then. If Republicans push Sotomayor and continue to call her a racist, they will surely continue to alienate their party from the majority of everyday Americans who see the value of empathy. Life is too difficult and too demanding not to show compassion to those around us. To be relatively happy we all have to bend and sway with the changes that come our way. A life lived without chance, forgiveness and acceptance is unrealistic — and hellish. Life is about compromise; and fairness is when the same set of people are not forced to bear the sacrifice in every compromise. We all know, “life’s not fair.” But at least within the Obama age of Hope, we can dream about a future where power and opportunity are distributed with more equality.


  1. freewomyn says:

    Two enthusiastic thumbs up, Natalia. Where would any of us be without a little help from people who are willing to take a chance on a stranger? The whole idea that Sotomayor is a racist is just ridiculous. People of color can be prejudiced, but they cannot be racist. Racism is institutionalized bias and it involves hegemony. White people still have hegemony in America, despite the fact that we don’t have the numbers to back it up anymore. White people are racist because they benefit from institutionalized bias. People of color can be bigoted, but they cannot be racist in a culture founded upon white supremacy. Rush Limbaugh can bite me.

  2. Thanks for the great analysis here Natalia. I also wanted to add that it seems almost as if the Republican party is trying to place Sonia Sotomayor in a double bind: either she is an activist who pushes her personal political views above the law, or she is a racist because she followed the law. I mean really, it was a unanimous decision – and whether people agree with it or not seems more of a question of whether or not they agree or disagree with affirmative action, not necessarily the ruling of Sotomayor. Not a single black firefighter passed the test, and according to the law – that disqualifies the test scores.

  3. I’m still concerned that Sotomayor might not be Pro-Choice. I won’t believe it till I see it and hear it out of her own mouth!

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