Sotomayor and race

It seems like Judge Sotomayor will be a great addition to the Supreme Court. I’ve only read a bit about her, but she meets my qualifications for a good appointee, namely:

  1. Smart.
  2. Liberal.
  3. Appointed by a Democratic president.

A pretty ridiculous rubric, I know. But it’s great to watching a more progressive judge get onto the court, whomever it may be, to balance out the very conservative John Roberts and Samuel Alito. And Sotomayor really does seem to be an accomplished and thoughtful longtime civil servant who belongs to be on the bench. Bonus points for being a minority and a women – it makes sense that the demographic makeup of the court should mirror that of the population at large, but it shouldn’t be a priority. 

Of course, a handful of asshole conservatives conservatives (Michael Goldfarb a good example) are all up in arms, claiming that Sotomayor couldn’t possibly be a good nominee, because she is not a white male, and therefore must have been given preferential treatment – via affirmative action, Title IX, and all of the other unfair practices that America uses to give minority women a better chance than white males. Unfair treatment like growing up poor in small apartments in the Bronx and attending large public schools (just like the Bush family experience). 

Andrew Sullivan highlights an interesting call and response between the NYT and the knowledgeable SCOTUSblog. On Friday, the Times’ David Kirkpatrick wrote about how Sotomayor has been active in promoting diversity and Hispanic issues throughout her life. He writes that Sotomayor has

championed the importance of considering race and ethnicity in admissions, hiring and even judicial selection at almost every stage of her career — as a student activist at Princeton and at Yale Law School, as a board member of left-leaning Hispanic advocacy groups and as a federal judge arguing for diversity on the bench,

which certainly seems to imply that her views on race and and benefits of (and challenges of achieving) diversity will weigh in on her judicial opinions and interpretation of the law, which is the issue at stake. Raise up the bogeyman!

Or not, according to Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog. Perhaps a good way to get a good idea about how Judge Sotomayor interprets the law (especially around race issues) is to see how she, in fact, interprets the law. Goldstein researched every opinion issued by Sotomayor and her panel regarding race-related cases, and found that

Other than Ricci, Judge Sotomayor has decided 96 race-related cases while on the court of appeals. 

Of the 96 cases, Judge Sotomayor and the panel rejected the claim of discrimination roughly 78 times and agreed with the claim of discrimination 10 times; the remaining 8 involved other kinds of claims or dispositions.  Of the 10 cases favoring claims of discrimination, 9 were unanimous.  (Many, by the way, were procedural victories rather than judgments that discrimination had occurred.)  Of those 9, in 7, the unanimous panel included at least one Republican-appointed judge.  In the one divided panel opinion, the dissent’s point dealt only with the technical question of whether the criminal defendant in that case had forfeited his challenge to the jury selection in his case.  So Judge Sotomayor rejected discrimination-related claims by a margin of roughly 8 to 1.

So while the heavily influential and very serious New York Times postulates and guesses about how race may bias Sotomayor, SCOTUSblog does some actual work, and reasonably concludes that 

… it seems absurd to say that Judge Sotomayor allows race to infect her decisionmaking.

Take that, old media.



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