Sotomayor will add needed voice to court


POSTED: Sunday, May 31, 2009

Jeff Sessions and Charles Schumer were smaller, shorter in person than they appeared on C-SPAN, but not John Cornyn.

The Texas senator looked taller in real life, sauntering into the room where the Judiciary Committee was meeting that January morning to vote on Eric Holder's nomination for attorney general.

The inch-and-a-half heels on his cowboy boots added to his physical stature, but it was the seal of the Senate embossed on the front of his footwear that was really distinctive, more a representation of his identity than a fashion statement.

In the close hours after President Barack Obama named Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, Cornyn was one in a quintet of Republican senators to sound common talking points about the first Hispanic woman to be nominated for a high court seat.

The four other men—Sessions, Charles Grassley, John Thune and Mitch McConnell—shared a script, echoing Cornyn's statement that Sotomayor would be required to “;prove her commitment to impartially deciding cases based on the law, rather than based on her own personal politics, feelings and preferences.”;

How she is to “;prove”; commitment is a puzzlement, but just as Cornyn cannot remove the fix of Texas from his soul, Sotomayor would be hard pressed to shunt aside her life experiences, gender and ethnicity from her perspectives of justice.

And even if she could, she shouldn't.

At the heart of the non-issue is an out-of-context quote from a speech Sotomayor made in 2001.

“;I would hope,”; she said, “;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.”;

If you read the fine print, the setting of the statement, it isn't shocking or “;racist,”; as some radio DJs, former House speakers and others have declared. Rather it is wryly ironic and as she continued, it was clear she has contemplated how her experiences might limit her views and how she would need to overcome those limitations.

She went further saying, “;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.”;

After all, she notes, “;nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown,”; referring to a landmark ruling that broke down the legal basis for racial segregation in American schools and public facilities.

The speech reflects an honest assessment of her abilities, an examination that would be advantageous for others—public leaders and individuals—to go through, particularly in Hawaii where a wealth of cultures and ethnicities resides and often divides.

Legal issues should not be seen as two sides of a story, but should get a complete walk-around, should be prodded and poked from as many angles as necessary.

Sotomayor's background as a less-than-privileged child of a widowed mother, an insecure student in an elite university, a Latina in a white-male-dominated profession will add more angles to the court.

She might even wear boots.

Cynthia Oi can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).