Diary

Obama -- and some Republicans -- missing the point on Sotomayor comments

Yesterday, Obama called for a speedy confirmation of his SCOTUS nominee, Sonia Sotomayor.  Any opposition, he claimed, was built along purely partisan lines, and not on drawing “old battle lines and playing the usual political games, pulling a few comments out of context to paint a distorted picture of Judge Sotomayor’s record.”

Obama seems to be missing the point, but fair enough; enough Republican pundits and pols have played the race card with Sotomayor’s comments that he can perhaps be forgiven for being confused on the issue.  So, in the spirit of fairness, let’s look at Sotomayor’s comments, and then the Administration’s interpretation of those comments, so that we can look at them in Obama’s “proper context.”

Sotomayor, of course, made the now-infamous remark that “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.”

For those painting the comments as “racist,” the sticking point here would appear to be the “better conclusion” remark.  And they have a point.  But there is a context here which lends itself to the Administration’s interpretation.  The argument can be made, and should be made, I think, that what she’s really saying is simply that her life experiences give her a perspective into the lives of the people involved in the individual cases, and better inform her judgements.

Okay?  Fair enough?  So let’s diffuse this racist thing and boil down what she’s “really” saying.  She’s not saying “Latina women are smarter than white men.”  No, what she’s saying is that because of her experiences, she has the ability to render judgements on individual cases, not according to the law and constitution, but based on subjective standards based on her subjective life experiences.  As Obama said, hers will be decisions based on empathy and understanding.

One problem with that, of course: any subjective coloring of her decisions based on her life experiences is a clear violation of her oath of office.

    “I, [NAME], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as [TITLE] under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.”

(from about.com)

Without respect to persons.  Equal right to the poor and rich.  Faithfully and impartially.  This is the point Obama seems to be missing.  This is the point hidden by the “race” controversy.  A Justice should not be swayed by subjective experience.  At all.  The job of a Supreme Court Justice is to judge, not based on her idea of “fair,” not based on what she personally thinks would be best for one party or the other.  But on the law of the land and on the Constitution.

No wonder Obama wants a quick confirmation.  Perhaps he fears that, given enough time, the racial undertones of Sotomayor’s comments will give way to the reality of her views on the position of the courts as unelected activist legislators.

There is a reason for the courts being set up the way they are.  Put simply, the Highest Court exists as a safeguard against (often well-intentioned) idealism or ambition turning into tyranny against the citizens of the United States.  To be sure that the laws of the land apply equally to all, and not differently depending on your race, income or social status.

And even if you take Sotomayor’s comments in the context the Administration suggests, that’s really what it comes down to.  She — and Obama — believe that her experiences give her the insight into how to apply the law in the way that best fits their subjective version of “fairness,” as applied to each individual.  Which is precisely the opposite of what the Supreme Court oath demands.

Hopefully, Republican leaders can learn from the recent past and understand that when this administration calls for a quick decision, it’s often because there’s something to hide.