Hypocritical attacks of Sotomayor will come back to bite Republicans
July 19, 2009
I would like to propose the Muftic Forum’s laws of politics. Law number one:Inconsistency happens. The corollary: Inconsistency equals irony.
The confirmation hearings last week in the Senate for Pres. Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, were glaring illustrations of law number one. The Republicans tried to trip Sotomayor up by dramatizing inconsistencies between her attitudes toward race and gender expressed when she was not on the bench and her pronouncements that she stuck to the law on a case-by-case basis when making rulings. However, there are inconsistencies on the Republican side, too. Ironically, those inconsistencies may backfire on them.
Sotomayor is the first Latina to be nominated to the Supreme Court. Of the nine justices, only one woman currently serves, yet women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population. Hispanics make up 15 percent.
The unresolved question is: Does it make any difference if the Court is made up entirely of older Caucasian men or should it have diversity more representative of the demographics of the country? If we expect our judges not to have any feelings or to set aside any conscious or unconscious life influences, it would not make any difference, would it? Of course, we all know it would, if only to provide a different perspective, if not a bias. The ultimate irony about the Republican Senators attacking Sotomayor for her alleged bias is that no one accused the Caucasian males of ever having bias in judicial decision-making based on their Southern or immigrant-ethnic backgrounds.
The Republicans seemed to be inferring that the white males on the court had no bias, but that a Hispanic and a woman did, and that bias was bad because it was not the same as their bias. Instead of making the pitch that Latinas would bring a good bias to the Court, Sotomayor played it conservatively with such nimbleness the Republicans could not pin her down when they tried to force her to admit her “feelings” played any role in her decisions. It was easy for her to make the case since she has 17 years sitting as a judge and she has ruled on 3,000 cases.
The Republicans could only find one ruling to hang their bias charge hats on – a reverse discrimination case concerning white (and two Latino) firefighters from New Haven, Conn. In the case, whites passed exams for promotion, but no African Americans passed. Fearing discrimination lawsuits, the City of New Haven denied the promotions on the basis the test was flawed. Sotomayor, as part of a panel of appeals court judges, upheld the New Haven decision. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) presented a long list of her rulings that went against the interests of minorities, a list that Republicans conveniently ignored. Republicans cited comments she made off the bench when she said her Latina heritage made for a wiser person and better decisions. Sotomayor herself termed this a poor use of words used as an inspiring rhetorical flourish. For the rest of the hearings, the Republicans hammered away at the “wise Latina” comment, as a two-fer way to play their race and gender cards. If raising the race and gender issues were not ugly and devisive enough, the Republicans then turned to abortion and the Right to Life. Sotomayor, early in the hearings, reaffirmed her support of Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose and confirmed her belief it is “settled law”, the same response previous Republican nominees had given when asked. This failed to make headlines because the Republicans could not squeeze any drama from her unequivocal and equivocal statements. Most of the same Senators hounding Judge Sotomayor on choice issues are also fighting the public option in health care reform because they charge it would put government between you and your doctor. However, ironically they are perfectly willing to have government dictate what a woman can do with her body in matters of choice.
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Are the Republicans playing with fire in opposing Sotomayer because of race, gender and her abortion position? Some say they are catering to their base, which became much more Southern and white male in the last election. Fueling the flames of cultural wars may help them regain a conservative identity for the 2010 election, but in the long run that demographic base they are trying to consolidate is a shrinking one.
The Republican party has acknowledged their future depends upon bringing minorities into their fold because of the changing demographics of America. States, such as Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada with growing Hispanic populations turned from red to blue in 2008, with credit for the margins going to the Hispanic voters. Soccer moms played an important role in electing George W. Bush, but they swung the other way in 2008. Republicans have made it harder to recruit minorities and women to their party.
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