“There you go again.” By that, I mean the GOP. Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, can’t seem to grasp that American jurisprudence is about more than just the application of the law to the facts, or that our Constitution has proven time and time again to be one of the most pliable, flexible, living, breathing documents ever to be written in the history of man.
The Republican senators who questioned Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, just don’t grasp that the “Plessy v. Ferguson” and Dred Scott decisions (which denied blacks the most basic of human rights—the latter declaring that blacks were only 3/5’s of a human being) were decided by racist judges who sat on our nation’s highest court. These Republican senators do not grasp that without so-called “activist judges” like Earl Warren (the former Republican governor of California), the case of “Brown v. Board of Education” would not have been a 9-0 decision in favor of desegregation.
History tells us that Warren single-handedly lobbied his fellow justices to ensure that they had a unanimous decision on an issue of such national importance. And when it comes to “Loving vs. Virginia,” the 1967 case that forbade interracial marriage in America, the same Warren Court rejected the unfair denial of the basic right of humans to marry whom we please.
All this is to say: Senator Sessions’ opening salvos against Sotomayor and her record make clear to me that the GOP has once again made a cynical calculation to use “race” as a factor in its political strategy, instead of winning the day on ideals and principles.
As a lifelong Republican and a female attorney of color, this strategy continues to concern me deeply. It was hard to sit and listen today to Senators Sessions, Coburn, Hatch, Graham, Grassley and others (all white, all male, all over 50 years old) lecture this supremely qualified judge on judicial temperament, “fairness”, “equal justice” and other maxims of jurisprudence. In his opening statement, Sessions pounded on Judge Sotomayor for her prior statements on how race and gender most certainly affect one’s judgment of the issues at hand, barely masking his contempt for such a worldview.
Interestingly, Justice Samuel Alito made similar comments when he spoke about his Italian immigrant grandparents and how his judicial philosophy has been shaped by the discrimination and poverty that his family once experienced in America.
It is my sincere hope that Judge Sotomayor is confirmed, as I think she brings an important perspective to our nation’s highest court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made the best argument for such diversity when speaking of her all male colleagues’ reaction to the recent Redding case—in which a 13-year old girl was strip-searched by school officials. “They have never been a 13-year-old girl,” she said. “It’s a very sensitive age for a girl. I don’t think that my colleagues, some of them, quite understood.” Ultimately, court watchers believe that the presence of a single woman helped her male colleagues to appreciate the sensitivity of the issue before the court. Thus diversity, gender, and life experience are all qualities that enhance our judicial systems and the delivery of “equal justice” under law.
—SOPHIA A. NELSON