Reflections

Sotomayor: a (politically) correct pick?

The First African-American President just nominated the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.

I know. That statement sounds so good it’s hard to believe that Obama didn’t pick Sonia Sotomayor just because she was Hispanic. It’s got a lot of people asking, is the candidate qualified? I wonder: if the candidate was not a minority if we’d be asking the same question? I would hope so.

A conversation with my friend this afternoon prompted to me to write this post. She said Obama was pressured into choosing a Hispanic candidate, citing a report by the Washington Post earlier this month:


“Justice David H. Souter’s departure from the Supreme Court gives the first African American president a historic opportunity to break another barrier by appointing the first Hispanic to the nation’s highest court…Justice David H. Souter’s departure from the Supreme Court gives the first African American president a historic opportunity to break another barrier by appointing the first Hispanic to the nation’s highest court.”

…And that may be. There was a lot of anticipation building up to Obama’s selection, but I think it would have undermined his own credibility had he based his decision solely on race. (To be honest, I think gender was the biggest factor at play. As CNN’s senior political analyst David Gergen notes, the short-list of nominees was comprised of all women.)

I agree that Sotomayor’s nomination is truly a landmark in Hispanic history here in the States, but I don’t think it’s quite fair to dismiss her as a mere fulfillment of some minority quota. I believe in Obama’s ability to choose a qualified candidate, which, from Sotomayor’s record, seems possible.

Even former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales notes that Sotomayor’s nomination couldn’t have been based on the need for minority representation.

“I don’t think that the outcome of a case should depend upon the ethnicity or gender of the judge, any more than the outcome of a case should depend on the ethnicity or gender of a prosecutor or defendant.”

Then again, as a Hispanic lawyer himself, Gonzales could be seen here as using his interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer as an opportunity to highlight a fellow-Hispanic American’s credentials.

And Sotomayor has quite the record: A Yale law graduate and former editor of the Yale Law Journal, her thirty-plus years of experience has included a partnership at a private law firm and as assistant district attorney. Plus, despite her liberal leanings, her nomination as U.S. District Court judge and to the U.S. Appeals Court by republican and democratic presidents respectively is a testament to her reputation as a bipartisan justice.

I’m not denying the historical significance of this selection, and it is true there was much attention given to the minority candidates; I just think Obama chose the candidate who he felt was most qualified for the job, and a byproduct of that happened to be that Sotomayor was of Puerto Rican descent…”hitting a two birds with one stone,” as my friend points out.

Now that, I can agree with.

As of late, we focus too much on minority favor. Yes, minorities should be represented (hell, I’m a minority myself), and their needs should be addressed, but I think there’s a point at which we need to stop obsessing over it or make it the deciding factor. We should definitely celebrate the minority “firsts” and similar achievements, but make sure they are deserving of those accolades.

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One thought on “Sotomayor: a (politically) correct pick?

  1. I do agree that Sotomayor is a very qualified candidate. I do think that Obama from the very beginning had every intent to pick an Hispanic judge for pragmatic reasons. The court needs diversity. He certainly realized he needed to also appease the hispanic voters that overwhelmingly supported him in the last election. Bush carried 60% of the Hispanic vote in 2004. This demographic was a large gain for the democrats. A woman on the court was needed but it was just as crucial to have an Hispanic too.

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