“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.” United States Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
What are we to make of a such a seemingly weird statement? “The richness of her experiences”? “A better conclusion”? Are the experiences of a white male less rich than those of a wise Latina woman? Do all Latina women have rich experiences, or only those who are wise? Is it the richness of one’s experiences that make one wise? If so, then might not the words “white male” be replaced with “Latina woman”, and the point of the sentence still be made? Or is the word “wise” surplusage? Is Judge Sotomayor saying that Latina women are “wise”, because, being Latina women, they have rich experiences that white males do not?
And what of the “conclusions” to which she refers? From the context of her speech we know that she means judicial decisions. “Better” judicial decisions must necessarily mean decisions that are more just, that are legally correct, that are more “wise.” It seems plain that her point is that Latina women make better judges than white males (“more often than not”). But perhaps Judge Sotomayor is saying that if perchance a white male has somehow managed to enjoy the same rich experiences that come with being a wise Latina woman, then he too might reach “better” decisions than those of his white brethren who have stumbled through a life devoid of rich experiences.
Assuming for a moment that Judge Sotomayor is correct, then our judiciary would be improved if all our judges were wise Latina women.
It’s easy to poke fun at the judge’s statement, given how utterly ridiculous it is.
I know quite a few judges. Some are latina women. Some are white males. Some are wise. Some are not. Some make consistently sound and reasonable decisions. Some render decisions that are often baffling and seemingly arbitrary.
I don’t know if the richness of my experiences put me on par with wise Latina women or not. If not, then maybe I lack sufficient wisdom to appreciate the truth of the judge’s comment. Perhaps to one who has had rich experiences, that truth would be more evident.
In fact, although it’s unlikely that I will agree with her very often, I suspect Judge Sotomayor will make a perfectly acceptable Supreme Court justice. And I’m confident that her decisions will line up exactly with the white males on the bench who share her politics, even though they missed out on the richness of her experiences as a Latina woman.
Shortly after the publicity over her silly comment began, Newt Gingrich declared Judge Sotomayor to be a “racist.” I consider Mr. Gingrich’s claim to be further evidence that we have lost our collective minds.
Evidently a hypersensitivity to political correctness now infects the so-called right as well. Seeing someone like Mr. Gingrich crying and whining about “racism” causes me to laugh, but also to shake my head in disbelief at the state of public discourse in the nation today.
I’ve heard several folks say something like, “Just imagine what the reaction would be if a white man had said that male white judges make better decisions than Latina women.” Duh. Any person stupid enough to make such a comment would certainly be unqualified to sit as a judge. But not because he necessarily is wrong to believe that. Instead, he would be unqualified because he lacks the good sense to know what is acceptable public discourse and what is not.
In our contemporary culture with its emphasis on “diversity” (meaning ethnic or racial diversity, not intellectual or philosophical diversity), it is acceptable (in fact it is encouraged) for those who claim to represent “diversity” to contend that their background creates a bias. Of course the word “bias” is avoided in favor of words like “wisdom.” But it is perfectly acceptable for persons who are part of ethnic, racial or gender groups that were historically oppressed, to claim that their membership in those groups makes them morally superior to white males. And a very large segment of our culture will hear such a claim, and nod their heads in agreement.
Judge Sotomayor’s comment is untrue, but I am sure she sincerely believes it to be true, and she is a product of a culture that encourages her to hold that opinion. Most people, however, (and most notably virtually all white males) believe that justice is blind, and that one’s race or ethnicity are not a source of one’s wisdom. For the past 50 years or so our culture has worked hard to impress that ethic. But the fact that Judge Sotomayor believes that her ethnicity and gender make her a superior judge, and the fact that she will be easily confirmed in spite of that belief, might be an indication of a shift into a more postmodern ethic, which acknowledges that there is no true objectivity in anything, least of all judges.
In fact, although the vast majority of judges believe themselves to be unbiased, the truth of the matter is that there is no unbiased judge. Most judges would adamantly deny that they believe their race or ethnicity affects their decision making (and notwithstanding her prior statement, I expect to hear such a denial from Judge Sotomayor), but in fact, as part of what makes them who they are, it does.
A few thousand years ago Aristotle addressed the question of the “rule of law” in his treatise Politics. He challenged the idea that the “rule of law” was somehow impartial. He argued that the only truly impartial and just law is natural law, which comes from “God and reason”:
He who commands that law should rule may thus be regarded as
commanding that God and reason alone should rule; he who
commands that a man should rule adds the character of the beast.
Appetite has that character; and high spirit, too, perverts the holders of
office, even when they are the best of men. Law [as the pure voice of
God and reason] may thus be defined as “Reason free from all passion.”
Thus true Law is reason free from all passion. But passion is unavoidable in human lawmakers, even when they are the best of men. Or the best of Latina women.