Barack Obama’s pick to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, has sparked protests from conservatives for remarks she made in a speech stating that she believes a Latina woman is capable of making better judicial decisions than a white man. Should race-based identity politics — if that’s what Sotomayor was/is advocating — play a role in selecting justices for the court, and in how those justices decide their cases?
President Obama floated word to the press that he intended to take Senator Chuck Schumer’s advice and appoint an Hispanic replacement for Justice Souter before he even announced that he had a specific Hispanic in mind. That, along with that overplayed sound bite from Judge Sotomayor about old Latinas making better decisions than old white guys, has riled a few people. I guess I understand why.
Sure, the president basically disqualified white men from the running as soon as he found out there was going to be a vacancy in the court. I see how that might offend some people. It didn’t offend me — I’m not any kind of people; I’m a stuffed dog — but I can empathize. Afterall, if we’re supposed to judge people on who they are rather than what they look like, or what country they come from, or where they grew up, shouldn’t that mean all kinds of discrimination are out of bounds, even positive discrimination? It sounds good, but here’s the problem: our backgrounds and life experiences are what make us who we are, and that in turn affects how well suited we are for certain jobs.
Steve, for example, who grew up in Clear Spring, Maryland, would be a horrible choice to judge a wine tasting. The poor guy just has no palate at all. Conversely, a well-heeled Frenchman, say former President of the French Republic François Mitterrand, would be of little use umpiring a tractor pull (assuming he wasn’t already long dead). I, as stuffed dog, am versatile enough to excel at either task. But I’m not here to lick my own testicles. (That’s more of a real dog thing.)
If the history of the human race has had a consistent theme these last few thousand years, it’s been one group of people succeeding on the backs of another, subjugated group. Sometimes these groups are divided up according to material wealth, or education, or skin color, or cultural background. It doesn’t really make a difference. The point is, it’s often very difficult for members of the subjugated groups to climb out of the holes they’ve been dropped into, even when there’s no one up on top holding them down any longer. Conservative commentators (of all colors and sexes, but mostly white guys) point out that there’s no longer any legal discrimination against people of difference ethnicities, so if black folks or Hispanic folks want to better themselves, all they have to do is, you know, do it. This ignores the fact that many of these people have a deficit to make up before they even get to the point where most of those white guys got started. Just because it’s possible for a black kid from the ghetto to rise above his circumstances and become a doctor or a teacher or a pro ballplayer doesn’t mean you should expect that from everyone with a similar background, without any help from the rest of you.
All of this is a long-winded way for me to say, yes, I think identity politics should play a role in choosing justices and deciding cases on the court. It shouldn’t be the only factor. It shouldn’t be the most important factor. But it’s only fair — and unavoidable — that it play some role in the process. President Obama saw a court packed with old white guys and thought, “I think I’ve got enough of those.” And he picked a qualified person from a different background. Good for him.
Maybe he can pick an Asian person when there’s another vacancy. I vote for George Takei, provided they let him read all the decisions out loud, before wildly shrieking “BANZAI!!!” and diving out the nearest window.
Let me tell you people something. Identity politics has no place in America’s United States, never has, never will, period. We’re a melting pot, a tossed salad — we’re supposed to be beyond these racial definitions. It shouldn’t matter what color a judge is, or where she comes from. All that should matter is her knowledge of the law — and I say this as a former police officer with plenty of experience in front of judges.
You know what “identity politics” even means? It means that you think you can only be fairly represented in government by someone who comes from the same background as you. So black guys can only really be represented by other black guys, because they know where they’re coming from. Ditto for Asians, and for Mexicans, Chileans, Colombians, Paraguayans, Peruvians, Venezuelans, Cubans, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and Hispanics.
That makes a lot of sense. What about people who don’t fit into one specific category? There’s a few of ‘em around, you know. Who the fuck is Tiger Woods supposed to vote for? You have any idea how insane that guy’s racial profile is? I don’t know how the motherfucker doesn’t get carpal tunnel checking boxes on his tax return. What’s he supposed to do if he ever gets dragged into court for something — tell his lawyers to keep requesting changes of venue until they hit some magical county where they can put together a white-black-Chinese-Thai-Native American-Dutch jury?
The hell with Tiger Woods — what about me? Last I checked there were no sentient plush German Shepherds sitting on the Supreme Court. Does that mean I’m to be denied justice until Obama appoints one of the Pound Puppies to the bench?
Fuck that. I’ve known too many Pound Puppies. And while I’m on the subject, I’ve known too many Hispanics, too. I still remember what you did all those years ago when you threw out the charges on those smack dealers, Judge Ortega. Yeah, I haven’t forgotten. Setting those poison-peddling pendejos free and ordering all that heroin destroyed? I had plans for that shit! I don’t know how you sleep at night . . .
The point is, identity politics is bullshit and we shouldn’t play that game, but if we do we sure as hell shouldn’t be naming Hispanics to the bench because they are not to be trusted.
Now a Portuguese — that’s a jurist you can set your watch by.
I hope you boys don’t mind me slipping my two cents in here, too!
I think the Senate should vote down this Judge Sotomayor, so that President Obama can appoint a purebred husky! As anyone who has ever owned or even met one can tell you, we are a truly extraordinary breed, possessed of the wisdom and unshakable self-assurance that are truly the stuff of which great judges are made.
But that’s only logical. Afterall, all lower forms of life evolved from the original huskies, who themselves retained their original perfect state through all these years.
Husko be praised! Put a husky on the court!