It’s after midnight. You’re a summer intern at the right-wing American Solutions foundation drinking your fourth room-temperature Honest Tea agave maté of the day out of an old Mountain Dew bottle so that your colleagues don’t mistake you for some kind of new-age Republican peacenik. You’re trying to figure out how to turn Judge Sonia Sotomayor—prosecutor, law partner, summa cum laude Princeton grad—into an affirmative action barrio chick with a fruit basket on her head like the Tropicana girl.
You may as well go home and catch some shut-eye—it’s not happening this time around.
A few weeks from now, after United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is sworn in, she’ll be modeling a custom Narciso Rodriguez for her Latina cover photo shoot after doing a spa day with Sandra Day O’Connor and Syrian first lady Asma al Assad at Oprah’s pad in Maui, and the player haters will wonder where it all went wrong.
Sotomayor’s confirmation is mostly a foregone conclusion, but she’s still drawing fire from conservatives who’ve pounced on her with accusations that she’s an “activist” judge—going as far as calling Sotomayor, who is of Puerto Rican descent, a “racist.”
But those charges don’t match the record. The Brennan Center found that she voted with Republican-appointed judges 90 percent of the time in overruling lower court decisions, the Washington Post reports that her record over 5,400 cases is 59 percent “liberal,” and if Newt Gingrich or Rush Limbaugh calls someone a racist, it’s a fairly safe bet they’re not.
So why can’t her Republican critics take a look at the facts, vote and then just pipe down?
Just like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wearing those lace collars on her judgely robes to let people know that she was up on Betty Friedan since before it was cool, the day Sotomayor accepted President Barack Obama’s nomination, she wore that chartreuse blouse under her black suit to let everyone know that after 17 years on the bench she still has flavor.
And that’s the part conservatives can’t stand.
Let’s face it—their idea of a “qualified” Supreme Court justice is a white male. They’ll settle for a white woman, or maybe a person of color who’s prepared to sever ties with their community. But they’ll never accept that Sotomayor, who’s regarded by the people who know her best as an exceptionally kind, smart, dedicated and hip lady and possesses impeccable credentials, is also someone who embraces her Boricua roots and still keeps up with the neighborhood that she hails from.
Sen. Jeff Sessions plans to attack Sotomayor’s “infected” judicial philosophy because she once worked with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. He doesn’t see that she gives back to her community the same way the Amish folks did in Witness—you build your own barn first, and then you stick around to help your neighbor build theirs.
Newt Gingrich calls Sotomayor a “racist” for suggesting that “a wise Latina” might offer a beneficial judicial perspective in certain cases. But he’s not actually saying he thinks she’s a racist. He’s saying she can’t be his intellectual equal unless and until she agrees that she should substitute his life experience for hers—because, well, she’s just a Latina.
Pat Buchanan insists Sotomayor is an “affirmative action” pick, but he’s got it wrong, too. Maybe he’s confusing her with Justice Clarence Thomas, whose pre-SCOTUS resume was a lot thinner, but who was chosen anyway to fill the high court’s “black” seat vacated by the late Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Sotomayor has every credential Obama could ask for in a justice and as a bonus—she’s Latina. So why not make history with her nomination? You can bet that if the court had six Latinas, Ginsburg and Thomas, Obama would’ve nominated a white guy instead.
Republicans are so accustomed to arguing that people of color are undeserving or inferior that when a Latina was nominated, they looked harder at her surname than her qualifications.
They’ve even invited New Haven firefighter Frank Ricci to testify against Sotomayor at her hearing—two weeks after winning his discrimination case in the Supreme Court that overturned the decision of a 2nd circuit court panel that included Sotomayor. As a follow-up, maybe they can get the International Association of Firefighters to invite President Obama to lead a seminar on new techniques for pulling people out of burning buildings.
For all that the Senate Republicans think they know about Sotomayor, it hasn’t occurred to them that if she had been on the high court when Ricci was decided, there’s a chance that she would have voted with the majority. But they don’t like her, so they’ll focus on trying to tear her down, not on her record.
But they can’t stop her now, and in the process of putting up a fight to oppose a nominee that they have no other way to criticize, Sotomayor’s critics will wind up exposing themselves for what they are: not advocates for blind justice, but pitchmen for the old world order.
Sonia won’t fall for it.
Look for “a wise Latina” to keep her head down, her answers tight and her powder dry. Pretty soon they’ll be saying, “Here comes the judge,” or maybe, “Ya viene la justicia.”
David Swerdlick is a regular contributor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.