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Context of 'May 29, 2009: Obama Criticizes Racial, Gender Attacks on 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

Former White House political director Karl Rove continues his attacks on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009). In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Rove echoes former Justice Department official John Yoo in claiming that the Obama administration chose “empathy” over capability in Sotomayor’s selection (see May 26, 2009). Rove goes one step further than Yoo in equating Sotomayor’s “empathy” with “liberal judicial activism.” “‘Empathy’ is the latest code word for liberal activism,” Rove writes, “for treating the Constitution as malleable clay to be kneaded and molded in whatever form justices want. It represents an expansive view of the judiciary in which courts create policy that couldn’t pass the legislative branch or, if it did, would generate voter backlash.” He accuses Sotomayor, and indirectly President Obama, of a “readiness to discard the rule of law whenever emotion moves them.” He also accuses Obama of attempting to “placate Hispanic groups who’d complained of his failure to appoint more high profile Latinos to his administration.… Mr. Obama also hopes to score political points as GOP senators oppose a Latina. Being able to jam opponents is a favorite Chicago political pastime.” Rove advises Republicans to use Sotomayor’s nomination as an opportunity to “stress their support for judges who strictly interpret the Constitution and apply the law as written.” He notes: “A majority of the public is with the GOP on opposing liberal activist judges. There is something in our political DNA that wants impartial umpires who apply the rules, regardless of who thereby wins or loses.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/28/2009] Hours after his attack column is printed, Rove tells a Fox News audience that Republicans need to treat Sotomayor with “respect” and criticize her over her “philosophy,” not her background. [Think Progress, 5/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Barack Obama, Karl C. Rove, US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor

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 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

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