Judging the judge

Facing the facts of the Sotomayor nomination
By Mary Ann Sorrentino  |  June 3, 2009

Women may not yet have full equality, but Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the US Supreme Court proves we can compete with the big guys now. It also means that women accepting patronage (and every political appointment is patronage) have an equal shot at getting pounded in the process.

And when mud flies, women, like men, need to get over it and stop apologizing, as Sotomayor has in recent days for a handful of impolitic statements over the years.

This nomination is a lock. No backpedaling is required.

Fact: President Barack Obama is one of the most popular presidents in US history. More importantly, he has the votes to get Sotomayor confirmed despite the ranting of opponents.

Fact: Latinos earned this appointment. Their support ensured Obama's election. Given the historic rivalry between blacks and Latinos in America's cities, that support was not easy to muster, and, once tendered, had a big price tag. One of the realities of politics is that everything given either creates a future debt, or is given to pay a debt owed.

Let's not pretend it's about how brilliant Sotomayor is, how impressive her career or her decisions. It's not about her mother or her public housing upbringing. Qualified as she is, she more pointedly checks the gender and ethnicity boxes Obama needed to check in order to settle his political accounts. Now he can silence whining Latinos, worried liberals, and a lonely Justice Ginsburg. This appointment is a three-fer: female, Hispanic, (hopefully) liberal.

No apologies.

Once Sotomayor is sworn in, liberals longing for a stronger voice on the court must hope she will stand up to the likes of Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.

Will she be the Latina who sometimes panders to "los hombres" as the new kid on the block eager to please, or the tough chica ready and able to take her seat on the high court with all the confidence she has earned? The jury's still out.

Sotomayor's recanting of her 2001 remarks that a Latina judge would often reach a better conclusion than a white male judge who hasn't lived the same life is disappointing. She need not apologize for the unique richness of her life experience or its influence. All justices bring their personal context to the bench: it is humanly impossible not to. Thomas brings his blackness, Scalia and Alito their oft-mentioned Italo bent and so on.

This is not racism, but the reality of being human. If we apologize for that reality, the country is in worse shape than we thought — and that, too, is a fact.

Related: Sotomayor's mixed message on free speech, On Sotomayor, Jews and Latinos get cozy, More more >
  Topics: This Just In , Barack Obama, U.S. Government, Politics,  More more >
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