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Context of 'October 26, 2001: Latina Appeals Court Judge Acknowledges Ethnic, Gender Diversity Brings Different Viewpoints to Bench'

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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

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

Pat Buchanan on MSNBC.Pat Buchanan on MSNBC. [Source: Vosizneias (.com)]Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan calls Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) an “affirmative action candidate” for the Court. “I don’t say it’s an outrage, I say it’s affirmative action,” Buchanan says. “They were picked because she’s a woman and a Hispanic and you know it as well as I do.” His sole evidence for his claim is the fact that President Obama apparently had no males on his short list of potential nominees. When host Norah O’Donnell points out that in past nominations the list of nominees had been exclusively white males, and perhaps “there weren’t any white men who were qualified” this time around, Buchanan calls her a bigot. When guest Lawrence O’Donnell, a former Democratic Senate staffer (and no relation to the host), asks if he would have raised similar objections if the list had contained no women, Buchanan refuses to answer. Think Progress correspondent Amanda Terkel notes that Buchanan has, in the past, avowed that slavery was good for African-Americans, wished for an America that was 90 percent white, and accused Hispanics of not wanting to “assimilate.” Lawrence O’Donnell says of Buchanan’s argument: “It’s like watching a dead fish flop around on the deck. You’re dead on this one, Pat. It’s all over.” [Think Progress, 5/27/2009] The next day, Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes follows Buchanan’s lead, saying that Sotomayor is “one of those who has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously.” Radio host William Bennett, featuring Barnes as his guest, replies, “Did she get into Princeton on affirmative action, one wonders,” to which Barnes repeats, “One wonders.” [Think Progress, 5/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Patrick Buchanan, Fred Barnes, Amanda Terkel, Lawrence O’Donnell, Sonia Sotomayor, Norah O’Donnell, US Supreme Court, William J. Bennett

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

The conservative Judicial Confirmation Network releases a television and Internet advertisement that attacks Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) for being “personally biased” in her rulings. The ad, which claims Sotomayor’s ascension to the high court will place “equal justice… under attack,” is based largely on comments Sotomayor made in a 2001 speech (see October 26, 2001). [Think Progress, 5/29/2009] White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says that Sotomayor made a “poor word choice” in her 2001 comments (see May 29, 2009) [Associated Press, 5/29/2009] , but both President Obama and liberal news and analysis Web site Think Progress note that in that same 2001 speech, Sotomayor was firm in reiterating her belief that judges must base their decisions on the rule of law, not on personal bias or preference. And an analysis of her record shows that she has ruled against plaintiffs in discrimination lawsuits a large majority of the time (see May 29, 2009). [Think Progress, 5/29/2009] After the ad draws fire from across the political spectrum, Judicial Confirmation Network spokeswoman Wendy Long (see May 26, 2009) backs away from the controversy, writing that the debate over Sotomayor “is turning into an argument about race and identity politics.” She adds, “Many of us in the conservative movement believe that Judge Sotomayor is intelligent, and that, at least on paper, she has professional qualifications that are certainly sufficient for occupying a seat on the US Supreme Court.” Long continues to call Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy “very troubling.” [MSNBC, 5/29/2009]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, Robert Gibbs, Think Progress (.org), Barack Obama, Judicial Confirmation Network, Wendy Long

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

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

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