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Context of 'May 26, 2009: Republican Lawmakers Accuse Supreme Court Nominee of ‘Personal Bias,’ Judicial ‘Activism’'

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Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor delivers a lecture at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law. Sotomayor, whose parents are Puerto Rican, speaks on the subject of Hispanics in the judiciary and her own experience as a Latina (Hispanic woman) jurist. After noting the tremendous cultural and ethnic diversity among Hispanics, and citing the ascension of increasing numbers of Hispanics and women to the judiciary, Sotomayor addresses the issue of judges acting without regard for their ethnic heritage or gender. “[J]udges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law,” she says, and notes that while she tries to aspire to that goal: “I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases. And I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society. Whatever the reasons why we may have different perspectives, either as some theorists suggest because of our cultural experiences or as others postulate because we have basic differences in logic and reasoning, are in many respects a small part of a larger practical question we as women and minority judges in society in general must address. I accept the thesis… that in any group of human beings there is a diversity of opinion because there is both a diversity of experiences and of thought.… I further accept that our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions. The aspiration to impartiality is just that—it’s an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others.” She adds: “Justice [Sandra Day] 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 also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First… 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. Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice [Benjamin] 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… believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable.… However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench.” [National Council of La Raza Law Journal, 10/2001; ABC News, 10/26/2001 pdf file; New York Times, 5/14/2009] After Sotomayor is nominated to the Supreme Court (see May 26, 2009), many critics will use this speech to accuse her of racism (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, and June 3, 2009).

Entity Tags: University of California at Berkeley School of Law, Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) attacks Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) for what he calls “personal bias based on ethnicity and gender.” Smith says, “Judge Sotomayor will need to reassure the country that she will set aside her biases, uphold the rule of law, and interpret the Constitution as written, not as she believes it should have been written.” Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who will vote to confirm or deny Sotomayor’s nomination as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says Sotomayor has shown disrespect for the law in her time on the bench. Eleven years ago, Sessions voted against allowing her to become an appeals court judge. Sotomayor was confirmed despite Sessions’s vote. Now, Sessions says she will get a “fair and respectful hearing” before the committee, but says he and other conservatives worry about her “history of activism.” Legal analysts say Sotomayor has a history of complying with the law, and far from being a judicial activist, has usually shown judicial restraint and a deference to existing case law and judicial precedent. [Fox News, 5/26/2009] In a statement, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) questions “her ability to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences.” [Senator James Inhofe, 5/26/2009] Liberal columnist Dana Goldstein retorts that the same question could be asked of the seven white males already on the bench, and asks sardonically, “White men are raceless and genderless, haven’t you heard?” [American Prospect, 5/26/2009]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Jeff Sessions, James M. Inhofe, Dana Goldstein, Senate Judiciary Committee, Sonia Sotomayor, Lamar Smith

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) says that because Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) is what he calls a “Latina woman racist,” she should immediately withdraw her nomination. Gingrich bases his remark on a 2001 comment by Sotomayor in which she said she “hopes 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” (see October 26, 2001). Sending a text message on Twitter, Gingrich writes: “Imagine a judicial nominee said, ‘My experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman.’ New racism is no better than old racism.” He follows with another message: “White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.” Republican National Committee (RNC) media chairman Todd Herman quickly “retweets” Gingrich’s message, which usually signifies agreement with the message, but the RNC will refuse to say whether or not it officially endorses Gingrich’s comment. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs replies that Gingrich is probably not the best source of information or guidance on the issue, and warns against excessive rhetoric: “I think it is probably important for any involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they’ve decided to describe different aspects of the impending confirmation. I think we’re satisfied that when the people of America and the people of the Senate get a chance to look at more than just the blog of a former lawmaker that they’ll come to the same conclusion that the president did.” [Think Progress, 5/27/2009; Plum Line, 5/27/2009; Washington Times, 5/28/2009] Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, refuses to align himself with Gingrich’s characterization. Asked about Gingrich’s remark, Hatch says, “No, I don’t agree with that.” [Think Progress, 5/27/2009] Days later, Gingrich will appear to withdraw the “racist” characterization, although he will go on to accuse Sotomayor of “betray[ing]” the “American system” of law (see June 3, 2009).

Entity Tags: Newt Gingrich, Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court, Orrin Hatch, Todd Herman, Robert Gibbs

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he is “troubled” by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) in light of her supposed “judicial activism” (see May 26, 2009) and supposed willingness to put her personal background above her dedication to the rule of law (see October 26, 2001). However, Cornyn repudiates some of the more vicious attacks on Sotomayor from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former House Republican Tom Tancredo, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, and others who have termed her “racist” (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, and May 28, 2009). “I think it’s terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent,” Cornyn says. Of Gingrich and Limbaugh, Cornyn adds: “Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials. I just don’t think it’s appropriate and I certainly don’t endorse it. I think it’s wrong.” [National Public Radio, 5/28/2009; Politico, 5/28/2009] The next day, Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the committee, says the inflammatory rhetoric from right-wingers such as Limbaugh, Tancredo, and Gingrich makes him “uneasy,” and he advises Republicans to limit their criticisms of Sotomayor to her judicial record. “I don’t think that’s good rhetoric,” says Sessions. “The question is, has the judge gone too far or not, given the established law of the land?” The Washington Post notes that in 1986, Sessions was denied a federal judgeship because of his record of racial insensitivity (see June 5, 2009). Neither Sessions nor the Post mentions Sessions’s recent attack on Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009). [Washington Post, 5/29/2009] On May 31, Sessions tells an NBC audience that his Republican colleagues should refrain from calling Sotomayor a racist, and he would prefer that they not continue to attack her over her 2001 remarks. [Associated Press, 5/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Tom Tancredo, Newt Gingrich, John Cornyn, Jeff Sessions, Rush Limbaugh, Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court, Senate Judiciary Committee

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

President Barack Obama lambasts critics of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) for their attacks on her (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, and May 29, 2009). Obama says that Sotomayor regrets her choice of words in a 2001 speech in which she said a “wise Latina” judge would often make better decisions than a white male (see October 26, 2001), but goes on to condemn “all this nonsense that is being spewed out” by critics who have accused her of racism and belonging to racist groups. Of her speech, Obama says: “I’m sure she would have restated it. But if you look in the entire sweep of the essay that she wrote, what’s clear is that she was simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going through. That will make her a good judge.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says of the racial accusations: “It’s sort of hard to completely quantify the outrage I think almost anybody would feel at the notion that you’re being compared to somebody who used to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s amazing.” Republican strategist John Ullyot, who worked on judicial nominations as a Congressional staffer, says that “any comments politically on race or gender are fraught with peril for Republicans.” He continues: “A few conservatives from outside of the Senate, in their zeal to pick a fight over Obama’s nominee, decided to get very ugly very quickly. No one in the Senate has followed along, and that’s the loudest condemnation you can have.” Ullyot fails to mention attacks from Republican Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL—see May 26, 2009). [Washington Post, 5/29/2009]

Entity Tags: John Ullyot, Barack Obama, US Supreme Court, Robert Gibbs, Sonia Sotomayor

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Former George H. W. Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan joins the ranks of Republicans (see May 28-31, 2009, May 29, 2009, and May 29, 2009) asking for a more moderate and less inflammatory tone in recent criticisms of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009 and May 26, 2009). Republicans should “play grown-up,” she advises, in opposing the Sotomayor nomination, and notes that her background—disadvantaged, Hispanic, female—makes her dangerous to oppose too vehemently: “Politically she’s like a beautiful doll containing a canister of poison gas: Break her and you die.” Noonan continues: “New York is proud of her; I’m proud of our country and grateful at its insistence, in a time when some say the American dream is dead, that it most certainly is not. The dream is: You can come from any place or condition, any walk of life, and rise to the top, taking your people with you, in your heart and theirs. Maybe that’s what they mean by empathy: Where you come from enters you, and you bring it with you as you rise. But if that’s what they mean, then we’re all empathetic. We’re the most fluid society in human history, but no one ever leaves their zip code in America, we all take it with us. It’s part of our pride. And it’s not bad, it’s good.” Noonan calls Republicans who launch virulent attacks on her racial heritage or gender “idiots,” and writes that instead of “exciting the base,” as one Republican strategist has said the attacks will do, “How about excit[ing] a moderate, or interest[ing] an independent? How about gain[ing] the attention of people who aren’t already on your side? The base is plenty excited already, as you know if you’ve ever read a comment thread on a conservative blog.… They don’t need to be revved, they’re already revved. Newt Gingrich twitters that Judge Sotomayor is a racist (see May 27, 2009). Does anyone believe that? He should rest his dancing thumbs, stop trying to position himself as the choice and voice of the base in 2012, and think.… The choice for Republicans isn’t between ‘attack’ and ‘roll over.’ It’s broader than that, and more interesting. There’s a new and fresh opportunity here for Republicans in the Senate to be serious, and, in their seriousness, to be seen and understood in a new light.” [Wall Street Journal, 6/1/2009]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Newt Gingrich, Sonia Sotomayor, Peggy Noonan

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

A doctored photo of Sotomayor issued by the Council of Conservative Citizens. The robe and hood have been added to the photo, as has the ‘raised-fist’ logo.A doctored photo of Sotomayor issued by the Council of Conservative Citizens. The robe and hood have been added to the photo, as has the ‘raised-fist’ logo. [Source: Council of Conservative Citizens / Think Progress]The Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC), a pro-segregation group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has called “brazenly racist,” posts a doctored photograph of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) on its Web site. The altered photograph depicts Sotomayor wearing what appears to be a robe and hood similar to those worn by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The robe has a raised fist and the words “La Raza.” Sotomayor is a member of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a Hispanic civil rights organization which some conservatives have falsely claimed is a racist organization (see May 28, 2009 and May 29, 2009). An NCLR spokesman confirms that the logo in the photograph is not used on any basis by the organization. [Think Progress, 6/2/2009]

Entity Tags: National Council of La Raza, Council of Conservative Citizens, US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, Southern Poverty Law Center

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) writes what appears to be a retraction or withdrawal of his previous accusations that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) is a racist (see May 27, 2009). He writes that he was reacting to the news of remarks she made during a 2001 speech in which she said a “wise Latina” judge would often make better decisions than a white male (see October 26, 2001), and calls his “initial reaction… perhaps too strong and too direct.” Others have criticized his “word choice” in his vilification of Sotomayor, and Gingrich writes, “The word ‘racist’ should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable (a fact which both President Obama and his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, have since admitted)” (see May 29, 2009). Gingrich then launches an attack on Sotomayor’s “judicial impartiality” and accuses her of “a betrayal of a fundamental principle of the American system—that everyone is equal before the law.” Gingrich is either unaware of, or ignoring, a recent analysis which disproves the thesis that Sotomayor has systematically exhibited racial bias in her rulings (see May 29, 2009). He calls her a “radical liberal activist” masquerading as a “convention[al] liberal,” and lambasts Obama for believing that “judicial impartiality” is “no longer a quality we can and should demand from our Supreme Court justices.” [Think Progress, 4/3/2007; Human Events, 6/3/2009] Liberal news and analysis Web site Think Progress notes that Gingrich may not be the most impartial person to weigh in on this issue, having called Spanish “the language of living in the ghetto” and warned of “gay and secular fascism” as an imminent threat to American society. [Think Progress, 4/3/2007; Think Progress, 11/17/2008]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, Newt Gingrich, Barack Obama, Robert Gibbs, Think Progress (.org)

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele implies that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) has racist tendencies, a week after urging fellow Republicans to stop “slammin’ and rammin’” Sotomayor over the issue of race and deal with her nomination on the issues (see May 29, 2009). While guest-hosting William Bennett’s radio show, Steele discusses criticisms that have been made of Sotomayor. “[T]he comments that she made that have been played up about, you know, the Latina woman being a better judge than the white male is something that she has said on numerous occasions,” Steele tells a caller (see October 26, 2001). “So this was not just the one and only time it was said. They’ve now found other evidences and other speeches… that she has made mention of this, this fact that her ethnicity, that her cultural background puts her in a different position as a judge to judge your case.… And God help you if you’re a white male coming before her bench.” A recent analysis of Sotomayor’s decisions as a judge in race-based cases proves that she does not discriminate against white plaintiffs (see May 29, 2009). [Think Progress, 6/5/2009] Four days later, Steele will defend his remarks. “Well, that’s not inflammatory,” he tells a CNN audience. “It’s based off of what—the inference that she left and what she said. You know, if you have a judge, where you have a situation where you have—you’re going before a trier of fact, and the trier of fact is on record as saying that this individual’s background experience is better positioned to make a decision than someone else, that gives one pause. And so my view of it was, in looking at it, you’re now segregating out white men by your comments. So, God help you if you’re a white male. If you’re seeking justice, this may not be the bench you want to go before.” [Think Progress, 6/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Republican National Committee, US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, Michael Steele

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who recently seemed to retract his characterization of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as a “racist” (see May 27, 2009 and June 3, 2009), now calls Sotomayor a “racialist.” On CBS News’s Face the Nation, Gingrich says: “When I did a Twitter about her, having read what she said, I said that was racist—but I applied it to her as a person. And the truth is I don’t know her as a person. It’s clear that what she said was racist, and it’s clear—or as somebody wrote recently, ‘racialist’ if you prefer.” [Think Progress, 6/7/2009]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Newt Gingrich, Sonia Sotomayor

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

After meeting one-on-one with Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) predicts that she will be confirmed “with pretty good numbers” and will “fit in” well on the Court. Martinez, like Sotomayor a Hispanic, says he is not concerned about her “wise Latina” comments from 2001 (see October 26, 2001). He knows of no evidence that shows she has ever let her heritage or personal feelings influence her judicial decisions (see May 29, 2009). “For someone who is of Latin background, personally, I understand what she is trying to say,” Martinez comments. “Which is, the richness of her experience forms who she is. It forms who I am.” [CNN, 6/9/2009]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Mel Martinez, Sonia Sotomayor

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Former President George H. W. Bush condemns the right-wing attacks against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), speaking out specifically against the charges that she has racist tendencies (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 29, 2009, May 29, 2009, June 2, 2009, June 5, 2009, and June 7, 2009). “I don’t know her that well but I think she’s had a distinguished record on the bench and she should be entitled to fair hearings,” he says. “Not—[it’s] like the senator John Cornyn said it (see May 28-31, 2009). He may vote for it, he may not. But he’s been backing away from these… backing off from those radical statements to describe her, to attribute things to her that may or may not be true.… And she was called by somebody a racist once. That’s not right. I mean that’s not fair. It doesn’t help the process. You’re out there name-calling. So let them decide who they want to vote for and get on with it.” [Think Progress, 6/12/2009]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, John Cornyn, Sonia Sotomayor, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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