Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Just How Misled is New Hampshire?

I think I missed this sermon.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


To close a window you either click a button with the mouse, or you hit command/control-W on the keyboard. You don't hit the delete key unless you want to go back a page, or you're deleting a file you've already saved on your computer.

What Would Puerto Rican on the Bench Do for Us?

Most of the criticism I've seen aimed at Sonia Sotomayor has struck me as simple, petty, childish, and baffling. Arguments that she's not smart enough or frugal enough don't interest me much past a headline. But one criticism is worthy of attention. That is the claim that she's a racist for making the following statement:
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.

Well let me first say that I don't see how this statement places one race above another as more deserving, powerful, moral, or wise. Let's not overlook the importance of "I would hope" in that sentence.

Of course not everybody cares about that little detail. And some fine readers encounter this statement quickly judge it
1) a bad definition of wisdom, 2) evidence that she's lacking a certain degree of wisdom, and, 3) racist.

In his predictable rant, Casey does rightly ask for a "richness of experience [hierarchy] list."

Tho, I'm almost certain that no matter what that list looks like he'll reject it as flawed and insignificant. And he writes
Soon we will return to epistemology, and the question will be: can you transcend your racial determiners when it comes to knowing reality? I will side with those who say 'Yes, you can.'

See what he did there? Casey's a cheeky bastard.

The first question I would have for Casey is if he read the entire lecture from which Sotomayor's statement was taken. Here is my reaction to Casey's three judgments above.

I'm not sure what he believes Sotomayor's definition of wisdom is, and so I can't defend what he attacks. But I actually appreciate her discussion of wisdom, brief as it is. Her lecture spends a good amount of time addressing the progress towards a judicial branch that more accurately represents the American identity. The progress is recent and still moves slowly, and as I read her statements, it is in comparison to the history of wisdom on the bench and in office that she believes a Latina would offer an improvement to the white males that have a legacy of disproportionally delaying and blocking the appointments of women and minorities to serve on the highest courts. She says:

In at least the last five years the majority of nominated judges the Senate delayed more than one year before confirming or never confirming were women or minorities.

That record can be defended I'm sure. But if it is the result of ignoring or rejecting the value of equal consideration, just like Sotomayor, I too would hope that a wise Latina would do a better job of treating all groups with the same respect.

Her wisdom is increasingly clear to me as I read her work. If the "certain wisdom" that she lacks is merely that specific wisdom with which Casey can agree without reservation, then I'm sure he would agree that it's not much of a criticism. In fact, she addresses this very issue in her lecture, agreeing with Yale professor, Steven Carter's argument "that in any group of human beings there is a diversity of opinion because there is both a diversity of experiences and of thought."

Most importantly on this point, she quotes Martha Minnow, who argues that there is "no escape from choice in judging."

I suspect this is what Casey sees as a racist view. Perhaps he sees it as resigned prejudice. What he believes we can somehow transcend, Sotomayor (and I) see as the reality of a life's experience. Sotomayor, in her lecture, refers to such transcendence as an "aspiration", but she's not sure it's possible to achieve. What Casey hopes we can disguise, and what she and I are comfortable with, is that diversity of conclusions. Because each judgment is a choice, we cannot escape the influence of experience. And should we? Is it the role of the courts to offer opinions that are held not by people, but by some unknown Platonic judge? But even if that impartial ideal is to be sought, Sotomayor's "hope" is a fair one: that a wise Latina would introduce an improvement that is needed.

"Let us not forget," she writes immediately after the quote that Casey calls racist,

that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case.

I hope the future is an improvement too. And with the progressively representative bench I also hope that the experiences of minorities are increasingly helpful.

And I'll leave the final words on this point to Sotomayor, whose wisdom I believe is exceedingly clear in the following remarks:

I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations.
There is always a danger embedded in relative morality, but since judging is a series of choices that we must make, that I am forced to make, I hope that I can make them by informing myself on the questions I must not avoid asking and continuously pondering.