Court Confirmation: American Affirmation

Over the last number of weeks since President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to sit on the Supreme Court bench, there has been consistent partisan criticism against her.  At first, I doubted my own anger to these unfounded attacks and chose not to react because I thought I was just being as emotional as the offenders were.  Now that I have watched the scenario unfold, allowed my thoughts to percolate a while and done some historical research, I can safely say that Sotomayor’s critics are way off base, reactionary, racist and just exhibiting behaviors that can be chalked up to sour grapes about our last Presidential election.  My initial instincts have legs.

I have news for you: the Supreme Court DOES legislate and each individual Justice DOES bring their lifetime of genetic heritage, environmental experiences and life perspecitve to the bench.  I call that the sum of a person’s life.  What? Should we do a lobotomy on each (especially the non-male, non-white ones) Supreme Court nominee to excise precisely those attributes that make a person himself and to falsely ensure that no personal, life long experiences enter into the judicial decision making process?  Nonsense.  The fact that almost all of our Justices have been male and white does not make that historical court make-up the gold standard.  When the authors of our Constitution drew up that document, they very deliberately used generalities, knowing that future times and circumstances would call for timely adjustments.  For example, I do not know what the ethnic census was in America almost 250 years ago.  But I daresay it was very different from the population we have today.

So it is true with the legal issues facing our nation.  The Supreme Court is the last stopping place for important cases to be heard.  Logic dictates, despite all the fancy semantics, that yes, a law will be made today when that specific case is presented to the Supremes.  Then the only path to negating that law would be renewed activism on the part of citizens and Congress to enact oppositional legislation.  In more recent times, our lawmakers have stood back, abrogated responsibility for passing new laws due to their fear of upcoming electoral pressures: another example of democracy’s complications.  The Court’s verdicts though, will be tempered with judicial concern, consideration for the Constitution and respect for the law.  We can call the Justices “arbiters” rather than “lawmakers”, but the bottom line is that they DO change our legal horizons.  The important thing to remember is that the framers of our Constiution knowingly and deliberately designed that document to be a fluid philosophy.  Thus, our sitting Justices must also be fluid in their consideration of and sensitivity to what our current times demand so they can judge appropriately.

Bruce Weber of the New York Times wrote an insightful piece, comparing and contrasting Supreme Court Justices with umpires:

Sonia Sotomayor’s female gender and Hispanic heritage are only some of the elements that define her as a person.  If confirmed, she will be the most judicially experienced Justice in 100 years.  Even Justice Ginsburg, in her interview with the New York Times this past weekend, cites the unbreakable bond each person has with their past development:

Q: Did you think that all the attention to the criticism of Sotomayor as being “bullying” or not as smart is sex-inflected? Does that have to do with the rarity of a woman in her position, and the particular challenges?

JUSTICE GINSBURG: I can’t say that it was just that she was a woman. There are some people in Congress who would criticize severely anyone President Obama nominated. They’ll seize on any handle. One is that she’s a woman, another is that she made the remark about Latina women. [In 2001 Sotomayor said: “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.”] And I thought it was ridiculous for them to make a big deal out of that. Think of how many times you’ve said something that you didn’t get out quite right, and you would edit your statement if you could. I’m sure she meant no more than what I mean when I say: Yes, women bring a different life experience to the table. All of our differences make the conference better. That I’m a woman, that’s part of it, that I’m Jewish, that’s part of it, that I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and I went to summer camp in the Adirondacks, all these things are part of me.

Each Justice brings to the Court his or her WHOLE BEING.  Why is that acceptable for white male Justices but not for  female or ethnic minority Justices?

The Republican response to President Obama’s choice of Sotomayor is nothing less than sour grapes and reactionary posturing due to fear of not maintaining the status quo.  The epitome of this antagonism is Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, that repository of enlightened, progressive thought.  Who knew?  In light of the many recent incidents of GOP, staunchly religious, strictly embodying family values politicians who fell on their own swords, I did a little research into the history of Mr. Sessions.  I was not surprised, or disappointed, by what I discovered.

His attack on the nominee is based on his belief that “empathy” is the exact same thing as ethnic bias and prejudice.  Here are the words from the horse’s mouth:

“Call it empathy, call it prejudice, or call it sympathy, but whatever it is, it is not law. In truth it is more akin to politics. And politics has no place in the courtroom,” Sessions said.

Have a look at Sessions’ own past professional history and HIS bias and prejudice.  The irony is astounding:

More specifically, Janet Shan of the Hinterland Gazette, makes a surgical strike on Sessions’ failure to get confirmed as a U.S. District  judge in 1981 due to his racist policies and beliefs:

Twenty-three years ago he was engaged in the fight of his life. He was appointed a U.S. attorney in Alabama in 1981 and was nominated to become a U.S. District judge by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. J. Gerald Hebert, a career Justice Department lawyer, testified that Sessions had once called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union “un-American” and “Communist-inspired.” He said that they “forced civil rights down the throats of people.” He sealed his own fate by saying such groups could be construed as “un-American” when “they involve themselves in promoting un-American positions” in foreign policy. He is said to have made remarks that he thought the Ku Klux Klan wasn’t so bad until he found out that some of them smoked marijuana. He said these comments were made in jest. Right.

Sessions faced a heated round of questioning from Sen. Edward Kennedy, who called him “a throwback to a shameful era,” and our current Vice President, Joe Biden. How ironic. The committee held four hearings during one of which Sessions pleaded that “I am not a racist.” Hebert also testified that Sessions had called a white civil rights lawyer a “disgrace to his race” for litigating voting rights cases. His nomination failed in committee on a 10 to 8 vote, with Specter joining the nominee’s original patron, Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) in dooming the nomination. In 1994, Sessions won a state attorney general’s race, and then won election to the Senate in 1996 after Heflin retired.

Sessions is certainly the pot calling the kettle black.  He has taken HIS own lifetime experiences and used them against Sotomayor.  His strategy is twisted and distorted and thankfully, reflects only back on his own pathetic, prejudiced self. This is because, while his core is based on exclusion, Sotomayor’s whole being is based on inclusion.  Whom would you rather have sitting on the Supreme Court bench?

I wish Sonia Sotomayor speed and fairness in her pursuit of confirmation as a Supreme Court Justice.  The successful outcome would surely be an affirmation of where we have come from, where we are going and what America is today.


Lo and behold!  Looks like Jeffrey Toobin, CNN political analyst, had the same observation today as Yo Mama did.  At the Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings on Sotomayor, Toobin likened Senator Sessions’ comments to my comparison of white, male experience as being the “gold standard” against which all other Court nominees should be evaluated:

In some respects, Sessions’ questioning has already become the defining feature of Tuesday’s hearing. As CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin argued on air: “What’s worth noting about what Jeff Sessions — the line of questioning, was that being a white man, that’s normal. Everybody else has biases and prejudices … but the white man, they don’t have any ethnicity, they don’t have any gender, they’re just like the normal folks, and I thought that was a little jarring.”

Of course, way back in olden times when our Constitution was drafted, the only people who had the vote were the white males.  Wake up!  We ARE living in a different world today and thus, the Supremem Court should reflect that.  DUH!!!!!


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