Friday, May 29, 2009

The Charge: Judge Sonia Sotomayor Made a Racist Comment in a 2001 Speech; One Conservative Blogger’s Verdict: Not Guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

-- Richard E. Vatz

As one often involved in discussion of politics and public policy, I have some familiarity with the claim that a quote is taken out of context.

Sometimes a quote is strategically taken so dishonestly out of context that it bears no genuine relationship to the criticism of it. If I say in a speech that "Towson University has the most impressive population of administrators, faculty, students and staff I have ever seen" (true, by the way), but that "there are 4 or 5 terribly incompetent staff members," it is quoting me out of context and inaccurately to say that “Vatz says there are many 'terribly incompetent staff members' at Towson University.”

The charge has been made that Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court nominee, made a racist comment in a racist speech at the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal’s Twelfth Annual Symposium on October 26, 2001.

The American Heritage Dictionary is one of the best places to go if one wants a non-majoritarian definition of a term. That dictionary defines "racist" as "[T]he belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others...Discrimination or prejudice based on race." Both concepts are relevant here, particularly the second definition which leads to the question, does she support in judicial decisions "discrimination or prejudice based on race."

What I would find in Judge Sotomayor’s speech is a lack of care of language. She says, for example, that “I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage, but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate.” Although the use of “prejudices” may be used because it supposedly answers the claim by Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum “that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law,” it does not appear that Judge Sotomayor believes that generally utilizing “prejudices” based on race is specifically reconcilable with “integrity.”

More telling, when she made her now-infamous 32-word (possible) gaffe, saying “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,” it was to support correctives to situations not experienced by men, such as when “…three women on the Minnesota Court with two men dissenting agreed to grant a protective order against a father's visitation rights when the father abused his child” and when “wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case.”

In addition Judge Sotomayor qualified her general remark with the following caveat: “I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.”

Thus, one cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Judge Sotomayor believes "that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others."

Let me be precise regarding my own reaction to Judge Sotomayor’s speech: I think she is loose with her language and sometimes contradictory in her thought. I think she should have stayed with her observation that judges from an earlier era – not judges of a different race – misunderstood some of the relevant issues in judicial decisions.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor is too liberal for my taste, but a liberal president won the election. I do not, however, for whatever it’s worth, believe that the case is reasonably made that she is racist or that her views are sufficiently outside the American mainstream, per this speech, to disqualify her for the Supreme Court.

Some Democratic partisans irresponsibly throw around the accusatory "racist" epithet prolifically; one should expect more of conservatives.

Professor Vatz teaches an advanced course in Persuasion at Towson University.


R-R-R said...

Unless you are delusional, Sotomayer is a racist, as are all members of the treasonous La Raza -by definition- who’s motto is “For our race everything- for others, nothing”.

Clearly Eric Holder has some racial hangups and agenda too… as does Obama, since his behavior betrays a wierd pro-Kenyan grudge against the British… and he’s the one who nominated all these kooks.

What happened to the idea of a colorblind society? Team Obama define their world in racial terms all the time- and unlike any white people I know. I wouldn’t want to be judged by any of them after what I’ve heard come out of their own mouths- they sound like Jesse Jackson.

If Obama is going to go on with his “justice” agenda largely based upon race- the double standards need to stop, and NOW.

Bruce Godfrey said...

Actually R-R-R is wrong. La Raza has no motto. There is a different organization called MEChA that has that motto; Sotomayor is a Puerto-Rican American citizen, born an American citizen in New York to American citizens. She has no Mexican ancestry.

It's not that Professor Vatz is delusional; it's that you are spouting right-wing propaganda tripe without, you know, using Google to fact check. It's more than a bit lazy.

I think Professor Vatz' piece is worthy of great respect; I would compare his piece to that of Charles Krauthammer of late.

Daniel said...

Well - then instead of "racism" how about the fact she fully intends to legislate from the bench?

She clearly says that Crt of Appeals is where policy is made and, following that - well, keep your ears open.

This is not the kind of judge we need in the SCOTUS.

Daniel said...

And what's more,

"Yet it was not an unguarded spontaneous outburst. It was a carefully written speech delivered to a particular audience. Sotomayor was saying the things that would be well-received by her audience. .... "