Sonia Sotomayor and the Politics of Race
Kevin Drum notes that he’s already tired of the “kabuki” that has emerged in reaction to the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.
I both agree that the process is predictable and tedious and that Sotomayor would seem obviously qualified for confirmation. I would quibble, however, with this:
Conservatives, who seem constitutionally unable of viewing any non-white nominee as anything other than identity politics run wild, have already decided she’s just a crass affirmative action hire. Out of a decade-long appelate court career, the only opinion of hers they seem to have heard of, or care about, is Ricci. And unlike all the middle class white guys on the court, who are apparently paragons of race-blind rationality, they’re convinced that she’s just naturally going to be incapable of judging any case before her as anything other than a woman and a Hispanic.
First, that she’s Hispanic and female were undeniably major factors in elevating her to the top of the short list.
Second, liberals/progressives are cheering the First Hispanic Justice angle, with Chuck Schumer openly daring Republicans to oppose the First Hispanic Justice and risk backlash from the fastest growing voting demographic.
Third, while I don’t recall any such controversy with Sandra Day O’Connor (who, frankly, was not particularly well qualified) it was widely assumed and continues to be argued to this day that Clarence Thomas (who was objectively qualified for the Court) was a token hire.
Fourth, Sotomayor has issued public statements that, while arguably true, are racially inflammatory and that would be much more controversial still if uttered by a white judge nominated for the Supreme Court. I just happen to agree with Daniel Larison that the solution to this double standard is to quit applying it to whites rather than start applying it to non-whites.
Fifth, it’s hard to stop the kabuki once it starts. Its modern incarnation began with Robert Bork, an obviously brilliant but undeniably controversial and arguably kooky appointment. It quickly became standardized and applied to all but the most tepid appointments. It took months to confirm John Roberts and Samuel Alito, despite their stellar qualifications and moderate temperaments.
Sixth and finally, while tedious and absurd when faced with an obviously qualified appointment who will no doubt be confirmed in the end, there has been a realization in recent years of just how important these appointments are. Supreme Court justices stay on the bench years, even decades, after the presidents who appointed them leave office and decide the most portentious political issues. I would prefer that the scrutiny be more sober and less theatrical but scrutiny itself is quite warranted.
UPDATE: Matt Yglesias chimes in:
And then there’s Ramesh Ponnuru who dubs her Obama’s Miers. Because, I guess, the qualifications Sotomayor holds only count as qualifications if you’re a white dude.
Now, I think Sotomayor looks qualified (I frankly don’t follow the lower courts enough to have a well-formed opinion) and earned plenty of ire from my side of the aisle for arguing Miers was not. But I’m getting really tired of diplomas earned in ones 20s being cited as evidence that middle-aged people are/are not worthy of some senior position. Surely, there are people who graduated SMU’s fine law school who are smart enough to serve on the Supreme Court. Just as surely, there are people who Peter Principled once on an appellate court. And, while I don’t think Miers by any means distinguished herself in the role, the list of White House Counsels includes some damned smart lawyers. Why, many of them went to Harvard and Yale!