Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Blinded by the Right

Time for another exciting round of "Smack" talk, this time focusing on the world of politics. Please feel free to weigh in by posting a comment, and enjoy.
Within Reason: I've tried to think of 100 different ways to pose this - but I think I'll just get it out there and let the details come through in the follow up:
Do you think Judge Sonia Sotomayor should be required to explain, in detail, exactly what she meant by her "wise Latina woman" quote?
Smack: What do you mean by required?
I thought her comments were pretty strange for a judge. Every statement I’ve ever heard or read from a judge was very well thought out and reasoned, whether I agreed with it or not. To read what she said about a wise Latina woman reaching a better decision, you’d think she took lessons at the Joe Biden school of public speaking. I’m sure I speak for a large majority of the population when I say I would love to hear some further explanation of that.
WR: That's what I'm getting at. By required, I mean before she is confirmed. What I did find troubling is that this was not a single event. There are several recorded instances where she makes this specific remark, and I do think that Congress should push her on this. Since we do not elect our judges, I think any potentially sensitive issue like this needs to come out during the confirmation process.
This is not to say that these hearings need to be witch hunts (for Sotomayor or any other nominee), but they should be thorough - and be built upon not only past rulings, but relevant public statements such as this.
S: Yeah, our thoughts are the same on this one.
WR: Taking it a step forward, do you believe that this is a potential mark against her as a nominee?
S: It’s definitely a question mark. Whether it’s a mark against her depends on her response to further questioning. To me, she makes an obvious point that people with different backgrounds can arrive at different opinions on certain issues. But I can’t imagine that she actually means “better” with regard to a decision that a wise Latina woman would make. It just doesn’t follow.If I’m wrong and that is what she means then I wouldn’t want her confirmed.
WR: This is where I think it gets very dicey. Here are the two Federal Judicial Oaths of the United States (federal judges are required to make both):
1) I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as XXX under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.
2) I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
The first oath is where some questions about background - vs. experience - begin to arise. To maintain a truly equal and impartial system of any kind - is the system required to maintain 'blindness' on each side? Meaning: If a court is not allowed to consider a party's backround, wealth, etc. when hearing a case, should they be able to openly consider their own?
S: No, and that’s why I would want clarification on her statement.We’ve discussed this briefly before and I mentioned that, with regard to judicial process, we should be striving for the image of the blind Lady of Justice rather than embracing socioeconomic diversity. While I won’t argue her point that different backgrounds can lead to different opinions, I don’t think that it’s something to be celebrated when you’re talking about administering law and justice.
Save the Latina influence for your decisions about what to cook for dinner tonight.
WR: Ouch. I'm not going to touch that last comment, but we're in agreement about the initial premise. Lady Justice's blindfold also prevents her from looking in the mirror, so to speak.
Another interesting piece to this story is the array of responses from 'white males.' It is so rare that a comment can be deemed offensive to this segment of the population (of which you and I are members), that it is as once both a hot potato and a tongue twister when trying to come up with an appropriate response. The initial cries of "reverse racism!!" were most likely too harsh, while the "that can't be what she meant" most likely do not go far enough. I do not agree that there should be an allowance for certain segments of the population (whatever they are) to speak in ways that would be offensive if the perspective, and words, were reversed. If during his confirmation hearings, John Roberts had said "As a white male, I think my expriences will afford me the ability to reach a better decision than (insert ANYONE else here), not only would he not be Chief Justice, he'd probably been unemployed (well, maybe he'd be a former Justice Department official by now...).
S: Ha… I just re-read my last comment and I honestly didn’t mean that to be a chauvinistic dig. I just meant that if you’re going to celebrate your Latina heritage, the bench isn’t the place to do it. Make plantains and rice for dinner, teach your kids Spanish, hang a Puerto Rican flag from your porch…I don’t care what you do, so long as it’s Lady Jusice, not SeƱorita de Justicia.
WR: Well, maybe. You raise another interesting point: are we truly a melting pot, wherein there is an inherent conformity expected of all citizens - whether born or naturalized (Hmm, maybe the terminology we use is a hint), or are we more than that? I've heard it called a fruit salad...so I'll pose it this way: Are we a fruit salad or a fruit smoothie? I think we strive for the ideal of 'fruit salad' - a place where people of different backgrounds, races, ethnicities, religions, on and on - can come and carry on their way of life in a setting of equality and freedom. However, the 'fruit smoothie' is more likely the closer analogy. Many Americans (regardless of any demographic factors) expect a sort of conformity from those who settle here.
The Pilgrims themselves - the settlers (sorry, Native Americans) of this country (sorry, Virginia), were not exactly the most tolerant bunch. We're taught in elementary school all about the 'freedom of religion' and 'freedom from oppression' that these settlers sought, but in reality they were looking for freedom to practice their own version of intolerance - and freedom to turn around and oppress some one else (again, sorry Native Americans).
Should we use this as a template for our current society, and scoff at the idea of dual language immersion for schoolchildren - for example, or should we rather choose to strive to embrace the transformed ideals that have arisen from years of glossing over the nastier side of history?
S: I’d like to think that our country is a fruit smoo… Point of order: do we have to use fruit salad/fruit smoothie? It’s a pretty silly metaphor. Let’s go with kebab/hotdog.
Ahem… I’d like to think that our country is one big hotdog when it comes to our national identity/culture, and yet the pig snouts, cow tongues, and raccoon tails can still retain and celebrate their individuality.
We’ve come a long way since the Pilgrims. I’m ok with immigrants coming into this country and keeping their heritage alive. You’re right, though, that I do expect them to learn English, drive on the right side of the road, pay taxes, etc.
I subscribe to the hotdog/melting pot model, so if I need to sharpen up my Spanish someday, so be it. You always hear people saying, “This is America. If you don’t want to learn English then go back to ____.” Well, doesn’t majority rule in this country? If/when the majority speaks Spanish, I think we should have to learn Spanish. And if we don’t like it then we can go back to ____.
WR: Mmmm...hot dogs.
As far as majority rules - there is a limit to that, and without opening a whole other bag of....condiments, I'll point to California - where the boundaries of majority rules are being pushed to the brink. Regardless of personal opinions, it seems foolish that one group of people can restrict the rights of another group simply because they are 'the majority.' Remember - it's just as important to protect the freedoms of others that you personally do not like - because plenty of people do not like yours.
This brings us full circle, I guess. Regardless of whether we're a hot dog covered in fruit, or a kabab stirring a smoothie - or some genetically modified version all four - the bottom line is that no one likes a hot dog that's burnt at one end, or a smoothie that's all juice at the top and ice at the bottom. We need to treat one another equally - as if between every one of us there were an = sign. Sometimes that may require a bit of algebra, but the difference between >, <, and = is apparent no matter where you are from, what language you speak, or how rich your experiences.
S: That was like a Jerry Springer final thought. It was inspiring. Thank you. Of course you’re right about infringing upon individual rights, but I mean our national language should be whatever language the majority of Americans speak. “Majority rules” wasn’t meant to be a blanket statement, or a basis for law and policy. Can’t we just be a bacon explosion and end the discussion?
WR: Well, I'll assume this is resonating in Cincinnati, at least.

1 comment:

  1. Any follow up comments now that she's been questioned? Do we buy into her explanations? Does she really feel that it would be her job to apply the law, rather than feelings? Does she really understand that her role would be to interpret the law, rather than making policy? Or do the past 15 years of statements and her judicial track record speak for themselves?