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Judging Supreme Court Nominee Sotomayor

Black Voice News, News Analysis, Chris Levister Posted: Jun 04, 2009

Republicans have kept the pressure on the presidents Supreme Court pick pushing the idea that Judge Sonia Sotomayor is an activist judge who will bring a leftist agenda to the bench.

Sotomayor, a U.S. District Court judge who would be the first Hispanic on the Supreme Court if confirmed, spoke on her reflections as a Latina judge during a 2001 speech at the University of California-Berkeley Law School.

Different perspectives brought on by individual experiences, she said, create a diversity of opinion even within groups, and those perspectives will especially differ from the majority in a white male-dominated society.

Pointing out that studies show women and people of color ... report in significantly higher percentages than white men that their gender and race has shaped their careers, Sotomayor said that the idea of impartiality is an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others.

Thus, she saidin the remarks that have offended conservativesI 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 hasnt lived that life.

While GOP senators have steered clear of tough language, they question whether the nominee would bring a personal agenda to the bench.

As Ms. Sotomayor made her Senate debut with a series of private meetings Tuesday she sought to reassure lawmakers she would follow the law as a judge without letting her life experiences inappropriately influence her decisions.

I believe she has a real respect for the precedent and if that is really true than I will agree with her and I believe it is, said Sen. Diane Feinstein (DCA).

Despite such assurances, some GOP Senators see her views as fresh ammunition in the long simmering debate over affirmative action. Sotomayors belief that she is superior to a white male because she has had more richness in her struggle, they insist isnt a jurisprudence the Founders would recognize. Rather a creative view that has dominated law schools since the 1970s and from which the President and Judge Sotomayor emerged. Since the election of the first Black president, affirmative action has been a shoe waiting to drop. The President has made it clear that he thinks the law should often be about results and that the Constitution evolves to reflect modern times and statutes.

The law in my view should avoid arbitrary results, thats prominent Riverside attorney Jack Clarke, Jr. Clarke says the Constitution should be considered from both a historical perspective and a contemporary view. The law should include the concept of mercy said Clarke. But allowing subjective standards to have too much of a role in Judicial decisions would, in my opinion, create much more harm than good.

Every judge brings along their humanity as part of their legal analysis, says longtime Riverside attorney Richard Nevins. A great judge knows how to balance the questions of law with the realities of life in this country. Predictability, added Clarke is a critical element of living in a society which is governed with the Rule of Law. Yet, situations evolve. Morality evolves. Our culture evolves.

Therefore, a completely static interpretation of the Constitution would be difficult to defend.

The coming argument about Ms. Sotomayor is sure to be riven with identity politics. Mr. Obamas feminist supporters have been urging him to pick a woman citing only one of the nine incumbents is female. Many Hispanics meanwhile, are keen to see the first Hispanic on the nations highest court. Ms. Sotomayor ticks both boxes.

Being a Latino woman in Americas diverse salad bowl brings a whole new dimension to the make up of the court, says Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter (D-Rialto). As a woman of color I have both empathy and pride for her.

There are plenty of pundits out there, said Carter that say empathy has no place on the bench. Some of those same voices say, in this country if you are not a Caucasian that somehow you have to be 10 times better. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, said Tuesday he will push to schedule hearings on the nomination of Judge Sotomayor sooner rather than later because of what he called vicious attacks on the nominee by leading Republicans calling her the equivalent of the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, and a racist, he said.

Showdown Over Affirmative Action

The real fight over Judge Sotomayors confirmation will focus on her role in Ricco v. DeStefano, a case involving firefighters in New Haven, Conn. The city told firefighters who wanted to be promoted that they had to be tested. But when no Black firefighter passed, the city promoted no one. Several white firefighters and one Latino sued for racial discrimination. Ricco, who is dyslexic, had paid $1,000 to have audio recordings made of his study materials and had spent several hours a day studying for the test.

Sotomayor was on the three-judge panel that ruled against them. She argued that although the city acted out of concern about race, its decision was facially raceneutral. The high court this month is expected to overrule the key appellate court ruling.

To her critics, that argument ignored a host of pressing constitutional issues and was striking for its lack of empathy. Every American understands the sacrifices firefighters make, but in Sotomayors court, the content of your character is not as important as the color of your skin, opined Judicial Confirmation Network.

Martin Luther King preached that we should be judged by the content of our character, instead of by the color of our skin, said Nevins, adding, The laws we create are part of how we define the content of the nations character. Yet for all the heat Ms.

Sotomayors nomination is generating, she will almost certainly be confirmed by the Senate. Once on the Supreme Court she will be free to rule as she pleases, for two, three or even four decades to come.

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