by Dr. Elwood Watson
Even before she was considered to be the front runner as the next Supreme Court Justice, there were rumblings from political conservatives about the “problems” with Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Now that she has been officially nominated by President Obama, certain segments of the right have come out swinging and kicking. One could argue that they are fouling pretty badly as well. The noise has been loudly obnoxious.
In his most recent article, Faiz Shakir of The Progress Report e-newsletter discussed some of the outlandish accusations that have been hurled at the nominee. Among some of the blatantly bigoted and sexist comments have been conservative commentator Pat Buchanan referring to Sotomayor as an “affirmative action candidate” and former House Speaker Newt Gingrinch denouncing her as a “Latina woman racist.” According to FOX News conservative pundit and Weekly Standard magazine columnist Fred Barnes, Sotomayor is rumored to be “sharp tongued and occasionally combative.” Perennially angry radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh tagged the esteemed legal scholar as a “reverse racist.” Former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo on a CNN talk show made the claim that Ms. Sotomayor “appeared to be racist.” Former Bush strategist Karl Rove questioned how “intellectually strong” the probable future Supreme Court judge was. Conservative radio’s newest darling, Glenn Beck, describing his reaction to President Obama’s selection of Sotomayor, said “Hey, Hispanic chick lady! You’re empathetic…you’re in!”.
Some of her critics have even decried the fact that she has an affinity for Puerto Rican food. Wow! Imagine! A person of Hispanic origin who likes Latino food!? This should certainly make her a questionable choice for the Supreme Court. ( I am being sarcastic.)
Yes, things have become increasingly foolish in the often delusional world of the radical right.
The statement that has caused much of the brouhaha was the response to a speech that Sotomayor delivered several years ago at the (University of California) Berkeley La Raza Law Journal annual symposium. During her talk, the judge argued that a person’s gender and race can influence their decisions on race and gender discrimination cases. She further stated that she “would hope that a wise Latina woman with richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a White male who hasn’t lived that life.” This is racist and sexist language? I don’t think so!
In fact, during his confirmation hearings in 2006, Justice Samuel Alito made the following remarks “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 gender. And I do take that into account.” He basically made a similar argument. Where was the outcry from the political right about Alito’s remarks?
This sort of ambush rhetoric and brash judgmental behavior is surprising and quite frankly, hypocritical coming from individuals who have made a career out of attacking and engaging in polarizing, racist and dishonest behavior. Rush “I hope Obama fails” Limbaugh once told a Black caller “take that bone out of your nose and call me back.” Tom Tancredo referred to Miami, Florida as a “third world country.” The ethically-challenged Newt Gingrich equated bilingual education with “ghetto life.” Glenn Beck was recently called out and exposed for his dishonest behavior by Barbara Walters and Whoopi Goldberg on the ABC daytime television program “The View”.
Although they are trying to appeal to their political base and varied audiences, the truth is that many of these men are hardly poster boys for exemplary behavior and should not be in the business of attacking or questioning anyone’s else’s character.
In all fairness, there have been some conservatives, such as Wall Street Journal op-ed columnist Peggy Noonan, Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Utah senator Orrin Hatch and political strategist Mark McKinnon, who have denounced extreme partisan politicking from their fellow GOP brethren. The ever poetic Republican party chairman Michael Steele made it clear that certain members of his party need to stop “slammin and rammin” on Sotomayor.
The nominee’s life history is the example of a female Horatio Alger story. The product of Brooklyn housing projects, Sotomayor was born to Puerto Rican parents who migrated to the American mainland when she was a young girl. Her father died when she was nine years old. She was diagnosed with childhood diabetes when she was eight. Her mother was a nurse, who often worked two jobs and instilled in both her children (her brother is a medical doctor) the importance of hard work and education. Sotomayor’s mother sacrificed much to ensure that her children would inherit a better life than she had.
Sotomayor went on to become valedictorian of her high school class. She holds two Ivy League degrees. She graduated summa cum laude and second in her class at Princeton University. She served as a member of the Yale Law Review. She has been the recipient of numerous awards. The list goes on and on.
On the contrary, Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove do not have college degrees. None of the aforementioned critics of Sotomayor had distinguished academic records themselves. Some of their accomplishments, while significant, still do not compare with those of the distinguished judge. And yet, they have the audacity to question her academic qualifications? Such behavior smacks of racism, sexism, hypocrisy and arrogance at its worst.
Barring any unforeseen bombshell, Sonia Sotomayor is going to be confirmed as the next Supreme Court Justice of the United States. Even many of her detractors are aware of this. Her qualifications for the job are stellar. Her extensive judicial experience speaks for itself. Her selection is a brilliant, fabulous, and inspirational one.
Dr. Elwood Watson is a full professor of History and African American Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several award-winning academic articles, several anthologies and is the author of the book Outsiders Within: Black Women in the Legal Academy After Brown v. Board (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Spring 2008)