Yesterday was a very busy news day. California created two separate classes of gay folks, and President Obama announced his nominee for Supreme Court. While I - very briefly - complained about one, I didn't mention the other. I was listening to NPR last night while cooking dinner for Groom and I. I hadn't heard either the President's nor Ms. Sotomayor's speech earlier in the day, and I found these speeches to be really inspiring. I felt lucky to be living in a time where real progress was happening, but at the same time, I was perplexed by the California ruling, which both upheld and violated people's individual freedom.
Part of what really upset me last night, was listening to how some conservative factions plan to move to oppose Ms. Sotomayor's nomination.
From the New York Times:
Others focused on a recent ruling by Ms. Sotomayor supporting certain race-conscious affirmative action rules that an Italian American firefighter in New Haven charged had blocked his promotion, or her past statement that her background as a Hispanic woman gave her insights potentially unavailable to another judge. [emphasis mine]
I take issue with using this last statement as a way to attack her. She is exactly correct in saying that her background gives her new insight. Yes, a judge needs to look at the facts and make reasoned judgments based on these facts. However, if one is only looking at the facts from one perspective - that of an older white male, one is going to come to a certain conclusion based on this prior life experience as well. To conclude that a set of facts will only result in one conclusion has been proven wrong over the course of 200 years of Supreme Court decisions. These Justices have had relatively similar upbringings, and yet they would come to varying conclusions anyway. So to add a new perspective can only broaden the way that the laws of this nation are interpreted.
However, the main problem with an argument that negates taking into account one's life experience is that it is just about as classist, racist, and sexist as a person can manage in the space of one sentence. It assumes that there is one main way to look at the world, and to not fall into this bracketed way of thinking perpetuates a group of Others. And while we have certainly created a set of Others in the United States, it is in the nomination of people of color or gender or class or sexual orientation that we are able to bring a more realistic view of the world to our courts and more, to our policies.
Facts are facts, but if, as a regular citizen, and not someone being nominated to the Supreme Court, you have ever spent any time in jury duty (which I have done twice) you will see that a set of facts results in vastly different answers, depending on how you view the world. In my past jury experience, I wasn't sold that the person who was accused was in fact guilty. In my experiences, the police are generally there to help you, and if you have a problem with them, you go to their supervisor to fix it. This comes from growing up white ina tiny town, where I learned to both respect authority but to not believe they always have all of the answers. I brought that view of the world to the jury panel I sat on in Washington D.C., where the majority of people serving with me did not share this view - or anything remotely close to it.
It is this small example that proves to me that one absolutely needs to take into account a person's background for positions of power like the Supreme Court, the President of the United States, or in any elected office. We are lucky enough to live in a nation that is greatly varied. To not have this spectrum of race, class, gender, or sexual orientation represented is a travesty that we all need to work to correct. To not support the equal rights of all of these people is also a travesty. Please note I said equal rights, I did not say equality. That's a topic for a different day.
Interestingly enough, Clarence Thomas made a very similar statement when he was going through the nomination process. From Media Matters:
During his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, responding to Sen. Herb Kohl's (D-WI) question, "I'd like to ask you why you want this job?" Clarence Thomas stated in part: "I believe, Senator, that I can make a contribution, that I can bring something different to the Court, that I can walk in the shoes of the people who are affected by what the Court does." From the September 12, 1991, hearing.
It will be interesting to see if those Senators who confirmed this man - who was being accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill - will want to use that statement against Ms. Sotomayor.
I'll go ahead and say it. I do think that the fact that Ms. Sotomayor is not a white man makes her a better candidate than most. I also think that she is only the third woman in 200 + years to be nominated to this highest court in the land is ridiculous, and I am thrilled to see Obama is seeking ways to correct what should not have been allowed for so long. I hope that her record on the bench backs up my excitement for her.