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Context of 'May 28-31, 2009: Republican Senators Repudiate Racial Allegations against Supreme Court Nominee'

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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

Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor during the nomination announcement.Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor during the nomination announcement. [Source: Associated Press]President Obama nominates Second Circuit Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his candidate to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter (see May 1, 2009). Sotomayor is a Hispanic woman from an underprivileged background with a stellar academic record and an extensive legal background, having served as a prosecutor, a corporate lawyer, and a judge for 17 years, having been first appointed to the bench by former President George H. W. Bush. She is expected to receive heavy support from Democrats. Republicans say they are waiting for more information to decide whether to mount organized opposition. Political observers say such a move would be chancy for Republicans, who need to attract more support from Hispanic and female voters. Obama calls Sotomayor a judge with an impressive intellect and a great capacity for empathy, and a jurist who renders judgments with “an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live.” He notes that Sotomayor has more legal experience than any currently sitting justice had when they ascended to the high court. Sotomayor would be the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the Court. Sotomayor is considered more or less ideologically consistent with the moderate-to-liberal Souter, and thus would not change the court’s ideological makeup. The Obama administration says it wants Sotomayor approved in time for the Court’s October session. In her acceptance speech, Sotomayor says of herself, “I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.” Of her position as a jurist, she says she is driven first and foremost by the rule of law and the principles laid down in the Constitution. “Those principles,” she says, “are as meaningful and relevant in each generation as the generation before.” Sotomayor was chosen over three other short-listed finalists: fellow appellate court judge Diane Wood, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. It is likely that one or more of the people on the list may become nominated to the court as well: Justice John Paul Stevens is 89 years old, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 76, suffers from pancreatic cancer. [Associated Press, 5/26/2009; CNN, 5/26/2009] In response to the nomination, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele says: “Republicans look forward to learning more about… Sotomayor’s thoughts on the importance of the Supreme Court’s fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law. Supreme Court vacancies are rare, which makes Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination a perfect opportunity for America to have a thoughtful discussion about the role of the Supreme Court in our daily lives. Republicans will reserve judgment on Sonia Sotomayor until there has been a thorough and thoughtful examination of her legal views.” [Think Progress, 5/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Elena Kagan, Barack Obama, Diane T. Wood, Sonia Sotomayor, Michael Steele, David Souter, US Supreme Court, Janet Napolitano

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

National Review columnist Mark Krikorian complains that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) should not insist on her name being pronounced properly—with the emphasis on the last syllable. “Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English,” he writes, “and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn’t be giving in to.” Krikorian continues: “This may seem like carping, but it’s not. Part of our success in assimilation has been to leave whole areas of culture up to the individual, so that newcomers have whatever cuisine or religion or so on they want, limiting the demand for conformity to a smaller field than most other places would. But one of the areas where conformity is appropriate is how your new countrymen say your name, since that’s not something the rest of us can just ignore, unlike what church you go to or what you eat for lunch. And there are basically two options—the newcomer adapts to us, or we adapt to him. And multiculturalism means there’s a lot more of the latter going on than there should be.” [National Review, 5/27/2009] Two days later, MSNBC host Keith Olbermann derides Krikorian’s argument, noting: “I don’t know when your ancestors arrived in this country, Mr. Krikorian, but there was a time in which immigrants with tough-to-pronounce names were encouraged to change them, or sometimes had them changed for them at Ellis Island and elsewhere. Unless Sitting Bull is one of your ancestors, they either got here afterwards, or, like mine, they resisted this racist wall-papering pap that you are now spouting. If they hadn’t, today, your name, by your own logic, would be Mark Krik.” [MSNBC, 5/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Krikorian, Keith Olbermann, Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court

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

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

Republican lawmakers have moved to tone down the incendiary rhetoric surrounding the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court (see May 26, 2009). Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says he is happy that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA—see June 3, 2009) and others (see May 28-31, 2009, May 29, 2009, May 29, 2009, and June 1, 2009) are backing away from the accusations of racism and liberal activism that have marked conservative responses to Sotomayor’s nomination (see May 26, 2009). “I think she deserves to be challenged,” Graham says. “It is fair to make her address that question and prove it. It is not fair to say that she’s a racist.” Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) says his fellow Republicans “shouldn’t jump to conclusions, particularly with, you know, overheated rhetoric.” Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler says Gingrich made his own decision to tone down his rhetoric, and was not asked by other Republicans to do so. Gingrich hopes to “reset the argument,” Tyler says, but notes that “nothing has changed in the structure of his argument, he is just retracting the word racist.” Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh says that the attacks on Sotomayor should continue, and says he doesn’t know why Gingrich is backing off. “I didn’t know why he had retracted it, and I still don’t,” he says. “I have my own theory about what Newt’s doing, but since I’m not doing it, I’m not going to comment.” Curt Levey of the conservative legal group Committee for Justice says: “The fact that the most extreme voices have softened I think is good. It’s good. We have to keep the debate civil. Republican senators should be keeping an open mind.… Calling her a racist was a racially insensitive remark. Frankly all we can do at this point is raise questions about her.” Levey has called Sotomayor an intellectual “lightweight” (see May 26, 2009). [Politico, 6/4/2009] Concurrently with the Republican lawmakers’ public statements towards moderating the attacks on Sotomayor, an aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Lanier Swann, advises conservative activists to keep up their pressure on Sotomayor. The aide gives the advice during a weekly meeting of influential conservative activists, radio hosts, and others hosted by veteran Washington activist Grover Norquist. “Swann told us she wanted to encourage all of us in our talking points and that we’re having traction among Republicans and unnerving Democrats,” says one attendee. “The point was we should keep it up. She told us at this meeting to put our foot on the pedal.” A second attendee confirms the account. A spokesman for McConnell says he is sure Swann did not call for further attacks. [The Hill, 6/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Lanier Swann, Grover Norquist, Curt Levey, Lindsey Graham, Rick Tyler, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch McConnell, Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he intends to be fair to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) when she appears before the committee for confirmation to the bench. Sessions says he knows how it feels to be accused of racism (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 29, 2009, June 2, 2009, June 3, 2009, and June 5, 2009) because he weathered such accusations when he was turned down for a federal judgeship in 1986. As a US attorney in Alabama, Sessions had demonstrably shown bias during his prosecution of civil rights activists for voting fraud, called the NAACP an “un-American” and “Communist” organization, called a black attorney “boy” and warned him to “be careful what you say to white folks,” and expressed his admiration for the Ku Klux Klan. None of those assertions were true, Sessions now says, claiming he was “caricatured,” even though at the time, multiple witnesses made the claims. Then, Sessions says, he couldn’t counter “the message” that he was a racist. While he does not directly repudiate the accusations of racism leveled against Sotomayor, he recently told her, “You will get a fair hearing before this committee.” [New Republic, 12/30/2002; CNN, 6/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court, Jeff Sessions

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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