Last week, President Barack Obama nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to become the first Hispanic and third woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice. While initially there were just a few outspoken Republicans against the appointment of Sotomayor — namely Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich — there is now a palpably rising concern in the Republican Party about the possibility of strong racial views coloring her rulings.
Sotomayor, 54, is of Puerto Rican heritage and grew up in the Bronx, N.Y. During her years at Princeton University she was a strong and active supporter of minority rights, and has since served on almost every level of the judicial system.
However, it is exactly this history of actively supporting minority rights and her strong ties to her Hispanic culture that have caused rumblings of displeasure in the GOP. Many Republicans initially refrained from lashing out against Sotomayor, fearing they would further alienate the already fragile Hispanic vote.
Now the question on many minds is whether a woman who says her views are influenced by her Puerto Rican heritage and humble beginnings can make fair decisions in line with the Constitution in cases involving all races and social classes.
One statement Sotomayor made in 2001 stands at the heart of the controversy in the Senate. In a lecture given at the law school of UC Berkeley, Sotomayor said 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.’’
Some, including Obama, argue that Sotomayor’s comment was simply misworded; however, there is a growing concern in the Republican Party surrounding her nomination. Many contend that Sotomayor’s statement implies that because she is a minority, her ability to make decisions is superior to that of a white male. After all, isn’t this in of itself a racist remark — comparing and categorizing one race over another?
There is no denying that everyone’s individual views are shaped by personal experience; the question is whether these experiences bring about opinions and rulings that are in line with the Constitution. Rulings by the Supreme Court are of the highest authority, and accordingly need to be made by people most adept to ruling fairly, constitutionally and without personal bias.
Can Sotomayor, who said herself — with significantly more eloquence — that her views are shaped by her race and her humble socioeconomic background, fairly judge a large range of cases?
Ultimately, the answer will lie in her capabilities as a judge.
The GOP plans to make race a focus in the fight against Sotomayor’s nomination. Though it’s possible her comments only revealed a lack in judgement, a Supreme Court justice needs to be able to make decisions in accordance with the Constitution. With issues of race boiling over in the Senate, what once might have looked like a clear seal of approval for Sotomayor now looks far more ambiguous.
Jacqueline Kurth is a junior majoring in health and humanity.