Sotomayor Clears the Supreme Court Hurdles

Sotomayor Clears the Supreme Court Hurdles

Judge Sonia Sotomayor has been cleared after a long questioning session with Congressional senate judiciary committee, leaving her one step away from replacing the retiring Justice David Souter. Sotomayor spent a lot of time defending herself against allegations of being too left in her politics and allowing that to influence her decision-making as a judge. She is also set to become the first Hispanic person to serve as a Supreme Court Justice.

The final vote was 13 to 6 in favor of Sotomayor. 12 of those votes were from democrats and only one from a Republican. The entire senate must also approve her confirmation in order for the appointment to become final. As they are controlled by democrats, my guess is that they will back Obama’s nomination of Sotomayor, as they should.

As for questions about how her ideology plays into her ability as a judge:

"Judge Sotomayor is well qualified. She has the highest rating by the American Bar Association. She has administered justice without favoring one group of persons over another," said Patrick Leahy (D), committee chairman. 

Lindsey Graham, the sole Republican to vote for Sotomayor, said:

"[Sotomayor is] of good character ... she was extremely well qualified."
And then there is the Republican claim that she is a judicial activist, that she has the potential to make biased judgments, influenced by gender and ethnicity.

"In speech after speech, year after year, Judge Sotomayor set forth a fully formed ... judicial philosophy that conflicts with the great American tradition of blind justice and fidelity to the law as written," said Jeff Sessions (R), senior republican senator on the committee.

Um. Blind justice? I mean, I get that it means to take the law at face value, that what is written is what you judge things on, not on circumstance or context, but this has to ring a little sour in every eye or ear that hears it. Come on folks. Are you telling me that none of the other justices are at all influenced by their gender or ethnicity? Are men the only ones capable of making unbiased judgments? Does not being white mean you are biased, and if so, against who? Are white nominees subjected to the same kind of grilling on whether ethnicity and race influence their decisions? Or is it too big of an “unknown unknown?”

Of course we can’t dig into that in this blog post. Race in America has been at the top of the news this week, with Obama’s comments about Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s recent arrest, the recent arrest itself, and Judge Sotomayor’s nomination hearings. There is work to be done, both in society and inside of all of us. 

The current Supreme Court is made up of 4 liberals and 5 conservatives, so this appointment will not change the political make-up of the Court, nor its prevalent ideology.

I wonder, though, what kind of lessons or conversations will come from this week’s conversations around race, if any. There is a great op-ed in the New York Times I recommend reading if you are interested in further thoughts on the Gates arrest and its social implications.