‘Wise’ Quote Not So Wise

While I think Sonia Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” line falls well short of racism and is even inarguably true given the right context (i.e., that personal experience colors one’s filtering of information) it’s still amusing to see it used against her in a clever fashion.

Scott Ott weighs in with a satire piece entitled, “Sotomayor: Wise Latina Would Not Have Picked Me”

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor said today that “if President Obama were a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, he would have picked a less controversial court nominee.”

Judge Sotomayor said she doesn’t blame the president for his unwise choice, “after all, as a black male, he can’t be expected to demonstrate much more wisdom than he has so far. He’s certainly sharper than a white male, but the fact remains that he’s male, and has no discernible Latino heritage.”

Meanwhile, Ann Althouse quips, “I WOULD HOPE THAT A WISE WOMAN would not keep recycling the same speech year after year.”  The link goes to a CQ report that, contrary to the administration’s spin that the line was an unfortunate one-off, it was actually a standard part of her speeches over the years.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Law and the Courts, Race and Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Alex Knapp says:

    Of course, given that it comes after a line about the impossibility of being wise, you would think that a bunch of intelligent people would realize that it’s a self-deprecating joke.

    God, I’m sick of this “controversy.”

  2. James Joyner says:

    Here’s the line in its context:

    Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice 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 not so sure Justice O’Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, 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.

    I don’t see any self-deprecating humor there. She’s clearly challenging O’Connor’s declaration that an old man and an old woman will reach identical conclusions. Latina lawyers seem to agree:

    Although critics have pounced on the statement — talk show host Rush Limbaugh branded her a “reverse racist” — many others have said her comments have been plucked out of context.

    Among them are several Hispanic women in the legal profession who shared their interpretations of the speech with HispanicBusiness.com.

    “I think what she meant was that people’s experience can qualify them to make decisions,” said Sandra Guerra Thompson, a law professor at the University of Houston Law Center. “Women may have a different experience than men, and so in some cases it might be an advantage to be a woman. And likewise, a Latina would have a different experience than someone of a different race. That’s true across humanity.”

    In her speech, Sotomayor is offering a counter-argument to former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s invocation of the oft-quoted maxim that a “wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases.”

    Sotomayor argued that although it is possible for judges to understand the values and needs of people from a different group — as was demonstrated by the “Brown v. Board” decision — “personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see.” This, she said goes for all judges, regardless of their race or gender. It just so happens that 106 out of the 110 justices who have ever served on the Supreme Court have had the experience of being a white man.

    I happen to think Sotomayor is right that a “wise Latina” will reach a different conclusion than a white guy, if not necessarily a “better” one.

  3. Boyd says:

    James: but the fact of the matter is that she didn’t say a “wise Latina…would more often than not reach a different conclusion than a white male…” She said “a better conclusion.” So while it would be “inarguably true” if she had said it that way, the fact remains, she didn’t say that. It’s not inarguably true, despite the context.

    Alex: Ain’t no self-deprecation to be found nowhere, pardner. But you just keep on making it up as you go along. It’s what you do best.

  4. John Burgess says:

    Just a point of order, but it wasn’t Glenn at Instapundt. It was Ann Althouse who is posting there while Glenn lightens his load on vacation.

  5. hcantrall says:

    I would love to see the uproar if a white woman or man said the same type of thing in this situation. This woman for being as wise as she is, sure doesn’t know when to stfu.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Just a point of order, but it wasn’t Glenn at Instapundt. It was Ann Althouse who is posting there while Glenn lightens his load on vacation.

    Right you are! Fixed.

    James: but the fact of the matter is that she didn’t say a “wise Latina…would more often than not reach a different conclusion than a white male…” She said “a better conclusion.” So while it would be “inarguably true” if she had said it that way, the fact remains, she didn’t say that. It’s not inarguably true, despite the context.

    I’m reading her charitably as talking about equity cases involving disadvantaged groups. If applied generally, it’s a silly thing to say.

  7. Alex Knapp says:

    Boyd and James,

    If there is “no universal definition of wise”, how can one say that they’re a “wise Latina”?

    I read that as a self-depracating joke in the Socratic vein.

  8. Steve Verdon says:

    If there is “no universal definition of wise”, how can one say that they’re a “wise Latina”?

    Just because there is no universal definition does not mean one is not wise, at least in some regards. And that is where Sotomayor went of the rails. Yes, a wise old latina with the richness of her experiences in some instances might make a fantastic judge where others would generally fail. But she didn’t say that. Don’t try to bullsh!t us that she did. Maybe that is what she wanted to say and tried, but she failed. She should “man up” and come clean or bow out.

  9. Alex Knapp says:

    Steve,

    This speech was addressed to law school students, and as a lawyer and former law school student, I can tell you that it read to me like a joke. I wish I had a video of the thing because I’d put good money down that the audidence took it as such and laughed when she said it. It’s very much in the vein of wordplay you’ll see lawyers crack jokes about.

  10. Steve Verdon says:

    Admittedly spoken humor doesn’t come through well in the written medium, but given the preceding comments [in her speech] I’m going to disagree with you unless you can find a video or someone saying, “Oh yeah, we all got a chuckle out of that line….” People heard these speeches, why haven’t they come forward?

  11. Not Boyd or James, but the lack of a universal definition merely means that everyone isn’t going to agree on what wise means. It does not mean that Judge Sotomayor, you, or I don’t have a good working definition of what wise is, and that we do not or should not apply our definitions as we deem appropriate to the circumstances.

    I am certain that there can be no universal definition of justice either, so what conclusions can we draw from that using your logic Alex?

  12. floyd says:

    “”inarguably?”” Did you ever read something called…. “OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY”?? [lol]

  13. Alex Knapp says:

    Steve,

    Fair enough. But given the fact that nobody’s brought forth any evidence that she’s ruled on a decision in a racially biased manner, isn’t this much ado about nothing, anyway?

    Charles,

    Now you’re talking like Socrates!

  14. Eric Florack says:

    self-deprecating joke.

    Ummm, sorry, no….
    Thing is, we have audio of it as well. And in one case, Video, I think. The firewall I’m behind at the moment blocks youtube, but I’m willing to bet there’s vid up of it there. IN the version I saw…and repeatedly heard…The only laughter came from obviously nervous students who, if they didn’t recognize baltant racism when they saw it, at least saw clearly that she’d stuck her foot in it.

    And Alex, let’s extend your comment here just a bit.

    But given the fact that nobody’s brought forth any evidence that she’s ruled on a decision in a racially biased manner, isn’t this much ado about nothing, anyway?

    Well, now, let’s see. You’ll recall I asked the same question hcantrall alludes to in his(?) comments:

    I would love to see the uproar if a white woman or man said the same type of thing in this situation

    Assuming such happened to make it by the stone wall that are the Democrats in Congress, wouldn’t there be continual questioning by the left about the “racist nature” of every ruling such a person ever made? I think you kow full well there would be. And I speculate you’d be among those demanding a resignation, based on that.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    All this sturm und drang about what Judge Sotomayor said is a way to pass the time, I guess, but in the end, isn’t it pretty meaningless? I mean, barring some currently unknown bombshell, she is almost guaranteed to be confirmed…it reminds me of the Roberts and Alito nominations…Democrats may have raised a fuss to please their base, but did they really believe they were actually going to stop the confirmation of either judge…