Larison on Sotomayor

Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

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13 Responses

  1. Will says:

    Mark –

    On a related note, I seem to remember that Souter was pilloried by conservatives because his jurisprudence was firmly rooted in respect for stare decisis, which generally ignores reading your preferred political outcomes into the law in favor of a more precedent-oriented approach. Do you think that’s a fair characterization of his judicial philosophy?Report

  2. mike farmer says:

    If he’s going to flip what she said, flip it correctly — ““ I would hope that a wise white man with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a latino woman who hasn’t lived that life.” It makes a difference when it is said like this, because it clearly shows she values life experiences more, to qualify as a judge, than legal experience and wisdom in general. And it shows that she thinks the white male experience is inferior to the latino female experience. Given that experiences are varied individually, this is a troublesome statement reflecting a limited ability to think deeply. It’s a simple mindset stuck in multi-culturalism 101. This mindset is not appropriate to a judge on the Supreme Court who shouldn’t be that philosophically limited.Report

  3. I don’t know whether Souter was particularly singled out for relying on stare decisis, but such a criticism is pretty incoherent – any judge in a common law system is going to rely pretty heavily on stare decisis.Report

  4. Chris Dierkes says:


    I’m with about 50% of the way and disagree with the other half.

    I agree that Daniel has improperly flipped the script and you have righted the quotation by correctly reversing it.

    I don’t think it’s as simple as Multiculturalism 101 and totally stupid. I think it’s by itself a very limited view but like every stereotype is based in some (even very limited) truth.

    What I think Soto. is saying is that the Latina woman has an outsider’s view. Outside of the dominant culture (here described as white male).

    1. She hopes it would give better decisions which means she realizes it won’t always.

    2. (And here I do agree with Daniel) It admits that are gender/ethnicity comes into play. What multiculturalism–which is a word I don’t like–does do is point out the ways in which white people have a culture and often don’t realize it. Think of the US Prez debate: “the real Americans, the hard-working Americans.” The white Americans.

    Or referring to churches and “black churches”. Or your black friend for that matter.

    3. It’s not taking account of poorer whites. So you could accuse Sotomayor or being classist.

    4. It flips the typical hierarchy (deconstructs) and replaces it with a new hierarchy. That’s new hierarchy is still a hierarchy (Latina women=good, white man=bad) and that’s where it’s problematic.

    But if it’s Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh yelling about reverse racism on this one I can’t say as I can get too upset–given that the other side (#2) isn’t being acknowledged by individuals like that.

    In my dream world, we would move beyond both the mono-culturalism and the multi-culturalism, both of which are still far too static and essentialist and treat culture as if it’s this all defining reality.

    The Conservative Judiciary is dominated by the former. The Liberal Judicial Establishment by the latter. It would be nice to move beyond both of those failed ideologies. I just don’t see it happening anytime soon.

    Somebody like Jack Balkin’s Constitutional Originalism (or Randy Barnett’s work) is starting in that 3rd direction.Report

  5. Chris Dierkes says:

    sorry that was “with you” in the first line.Report

  6. mike farmer says:


    I don’t think she is totally stupid, or what she said is totally stupid, just limited regarding the requirements for a Supreme Court judge — most of us are limited in this respect. She might have a deeper understanding of some aspects of the world, but this is irrelevant, and it’s individually possessed, if so, not inherent in being a latino woman.

    Justice is blind — this is not a cliche, it’s a principle, and where she might have insight into the life of a latino woman, this can’t be exprapolated to a superior understanding of the law in comparison to what a white male would possess, or a black male, or black woman, or asian male, etc. What in the experience of a latino woman makes that experience more valuable than a white male’s experience? It’s a combination of experience and knowledge and individual capacity to understand and possess the qualities necessary to interpret the law and perform the duties of a Supreme Court judge that’s critical — all the other considerations are political and cynical, and dangerously counter to the Constitution.

    I don’t see any way around this, unless we change the qualifications for being a Supreme Court judge — however, going by the qualifications, Sotomayor is a poor choice, given there are many others more suited and less limited. We should stop the trend to stack the court for political reasons.Report

  7. E.D. Kain says:

    I think it’s just silly to hang on to every last comment someone has made. People phrase things poorly. They say things with meaning that is lost when quotations are taken out of context, or even out of a larger context that goes beyond the particular speech etc. as in the theme of the event. It is okay for a woman and a minority to talk about the inherent struggle that women and minorities face. It’s okay that those struggles help them form their perspective – or in Sotomayor’s case, help her be a better judge.

    Do I think it makes her a better judge than a white male? No. I think it’s irrelevant. I even think it’s a dumb thing to say – or a dumb way to say it perhaps. Do I think it holds any water as a piece of the case against her nomination? No. She seems perfectly qualified. I could care less about these silly trifles.

    If he’s going to flip what she said, flip it correctly — ““ I would hope that a wise white man with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a latino woman who hasn’t lived that life.”

    Also, it is not fair to flip the statement the way Mike has offered. The point of her statement was that she was specifically something that made her different (not superior or inferior, but different, with different struggles). Having a strong Catholic faith would be similar to that (not the same, but similar). Being a non-minority (white male) is not – unless you are gay or something that takes you out of the mainstream. Is this always a valid point? Often no. But in her case it does seem to be – more because of class than race, I’d say, but still…. Her point is not to place one race above another, but to show that her experience due to race and sex was different. That is why Larison uses the strong faith example, rather than simply using Sotomayor’s physical opposites.Report

  8. Ian_M says:

    Before attacking someone for what they said, you should look at what they said:

    “Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O’Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I 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 hasn’t lived that life.”

  9. E.D. Kain says:

    I’d also point out that Sotomayor is very qualified – well educated with lots of experience at the bench. Are there more qualified potential nominees? Of course. There almost always will be. And the court is always stacked for political reasons and always will be, though obviously it would be best if presidents would pick great legal thinkers who could look at things beyond their ideological merit….Report

  10. mike farmer says:

    It’s not only this statement, but the taped talk where she talked about judges making policy — then the firefighter decision — all of it together gives us a view of the person. She is not suited to be a Supreme Court judge, in my estimation. It doesn’t make her a bad person, just not qualified.Report

  11. Jaybird says:

    “I 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 hasn’t lived that life.”

    This statement offends me.

    Oddly enough, the statement “I am confident that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would reach equally wise (though not necessarily identical) conclusions as a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” sets off not a single klaxon.Report