Sotomayor: America’s Global Advantage
How does the rest of the world view Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court?
July 23, 2009
In the very days when two major U.S. industrial icons, General Motors and Chrysler, are withering away, one might have expected the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court to have generated widespread national pride.
After all, this Latina woman's life story exemplifies the American Dream at its best. Hers is a rags to (intellectual) riches story that underscores social mobility at its finest.
A woman who grew up in a public housing project in the South Bronx — whose father died when she was nine and whose mother worked as a nurse. A woman who excelled at Princeton — and continued to do so from there onward.
When over 15% of the U.S. population is Hispanic in origin — and almost 34% of the Hispanic population is younger than 18, compared with 25% of the total population — Judge Sotomayor's selection should be welcome. It offers plenty of stimulus and encouragement to young Hispanic girls all over the United States (and beyond).
This is a growing demographic that will be increasingly influential in the years to come. Young Latinas’ career prospects and general outlooks on life will matter a great deal for the future competitiveness of the United States.
Let us also remember in this context that, until the judge's selection, the two big stories of nationwide importance concerning the Hispanic community had been the shrinkage of remittance payments to Latin American countries due to the severe U.S. recession — and the disproportionate way in which Hispanic families got caught up in the fraudulent subprime mortgage schemes.
Under those circumstances, the path to excellence can look arduous — and even dim — for the young members of immigrant families. The cutbacks of teachers in already poorly endowed school districts, the wholesale elimination of after-school programs, rising unemployment among family members, gang violence — these factors do not paint a pretty picture.
So why during Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings did official Washington and the country as a whole witness such a grand battle over the mighty matter of a job opening at the U.S. Supreme Court?
True, Sotomayor's appointment appears to be assured at this point. And far-right Republicans such as Newt Gingrich have apologized for divisive remarks they made in the wake of her nomination.
But the entire messy debate up to this point has put American in a bad light — and shown that, despite having the first African American president, quite a few of the country's politicians still have a long way to go in order to catch up to the diverse population they serve.
To those who thrive on shrillness, and who are profoundly uncomfortable with the increasing diversity of the country, she was portrayed as a "racist" engaging in "identity politics."
As if the United States had not experienced well over 200 years of identity politics, when white males fancied themselves as the only relevant essence of humanity.
That barrier was broken down very gradually through more inclusive politics — which was often arrived at via acts of great personal courage by individuals and groups fighting for women's suffrage, civil rights for black Americans and other similarly important battles.
Oh, and lest we forget, the poor woman was — predictably enough — charged with being an "activist judge" who is attempting to make policy through her rulings. As if the ultimate purpose of the law was not to make society function more justly, more effectively and for more people.
This multi-ethnic society is quickly shifting to becoming one in which Caucasians will be a minority in 2050. And that transformation does indeed mean that "a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences" adds value to the bench, as will other women and other minorities serving on the court in the future. After all, 106 out of 110 Supreme Court justices to date have been white males.
When groups whose forefathers benefited from earlier prejudice now say that the "overwhelming majority of Americans are opposed" to considering diversity in hiring, they are clearly oblivious to the broadened pool of available talent. Further, they do not recognize the need to pick diversity-enhancing candidates from the pool of equally qualified candidates in order to create a more truthful mirror image of today's America.
This is no longer about the quota-minded "Rainbow Coalition" of the Jesse Jackson Sr. period. This is about recognizing that, in a global world, multi-ethnicity is not a society's liability, but rather a core factor of strength — provided that it is used as a domestic race toward fairness and excellence.
Sonia Sotomayor symbolizes that very idea. There is nothing "quota" about her. She has proved adept in confirmation hearings, avoiding a major partisan battle and also showing great humor. She even seemed to win over a key conservative on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
At the end of their exchange, he asked her one last time about her "wise Latina" comment. She replied, "I regret that I have offended some people. I believe that my life demonstrates that that was not my intent to leave the impression some have taken from my words."
To which Graham replied, "You know what, Judge? I agree with you. Good luck."
Perhaps America's politicians are changing, after all.
In a global world, multi-ethnicity is not a society's liability, but rather a core factor of strength — provided that it is used as a domestic race toward fairness and excellence.
Sonia Sotomayor symbolizes the strength of diversity. There is nothing "quota" about her.
Sotomayor's is a rags to (intellectual) riches story that underscores social mobility at its finest.
Quite a few U.S. politicians still have a long way to go in order to catch up to the diverse population they serve.