Republican questions of Sotomayor border on racial harassment

LatinaLista — It was to be expected that the senators grilling Judge Sonia Sotomayor during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings would bring up her “wise Latina” statement.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor during her confirmation hearings.
And it’s not surprising that she would pull a “my bad” form of apology in explaining it away.
Yet, a couple of senators were intent on shaming Sotomayor in ever making the statement.
As Arizona’s Sen. Kyle scolded:

…So here you’re reaching a judgment that not only will it make a difference but that it should make a difference. You acknowledge that they made a big difference in discrimination cases but it took a long time to understand — it takes time and effort. “In short, I accept the proposition that difference will be made by the presence of women and people of color on bench and my experiences will affect the facts that I choose to see. I don’t know exactly what the difference will be in my judging but I accept that there will be some based gender and my Latina heritage.”
You said that you weren’t encouraging that. And you talked about how we need to set that aside, but you didn’t in your speech say that this is not good. We need to set this aside. Instead you seem to be celebrating it. The clear inference is it’s a good thing that this is happening.
So that’s why some of us are concerned, first with the [?] [?] in his speech and then this article. It would lead someone to the conclusion that (a) you understand it will make a difference; and (b) not only are you not saying anything negative about that, but you seem to embrace that difference, in concluding that you’ll make better decisions. That’s the basis of concern that a lot of people have.

Judge Sotomayor needs to be given kudos for even following that rant.
Then it was South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham’s turn which proved difficult to watch not because he also made it a point to scold Sotomayor for her choice of words in the “wise Latina” statement, but repeatedly stooped to condescendingly shaming her on her statement in an unacceptable and repulsive manner.
The problem is that while hard questions were expected, the line of questioning forcing her to practically denounce the statement isn’t seen as having anything to do with her qualifications as a Supreme Court justice. Rather, it hearkens back to a time in history, dare I say, when submission was beaten into a person of color.
That Judge Sotomayor has to sit there with a smile on her face and take the condescending insults is not just disrespectful to Latinos but women and people of color who have been historically subjected to this kind of authoritarian treatment.


There was no clearer sign that Sen. Graham relished his role as whipmaster over Sotomayor than in these statements:
You’ve got a judge who has been on a circuit court for a dozen years. Some of the things trouble me, generally speaking left of center, but within the mainstream, and you have these speeches that just blow me away. Don’t become a speechwriter, if this law thing doesn’t work out, because these speeches really throw a wrinkle into everything.
The ten-minute rule applies to everybody and that obviously you’ve accomplished a lot in your life, but maybe these hearings are time for self-reflection.
And the one thing that I’ve tried to impress upon you through jokes and being serious, is the consequences of these words in the world in which we live in. You know, we’re talking about putting you on the Supreme Court and judging your fellow citizens.
And one of the things that I need to be assured of is that you understand the world as it pretty much really is. And we’ve got a long way to go in this country, and I can’t find the quote, but I’ll find it here in a moment — the wise Latino quote.
“I would hope that a wise Latino (sic) woman, with the richness of her experience, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male.” And the only reason I keep talking about this is that I’m in politics. And you’ve got to watch what you say, because, one, you don’t want to offend people you’re trying to represent.
But do you understand, ma’am, that if I had said anything like that, and my reasoning was that I’m trying to inspire somebody, they would have had my head? Do you understand that?
SOTOMAYOR: I do understand how those words could be taken that way, particularly if read in isolation.
GRAHAM: Well, I don’t know how else you could take that. If Lindsey Graham said that I will make a better senator than X, because of my experience as a Caucasian male makes me better able to represent the people of South Carolina, and my opponent was a minority, it would make national news, and it should.
Having said that, I am not going to judge you by that one statement. I just hope you’ll appreciate the world in which we live in, that you can say those things, meaning to inspire somebody, and still have a chance to get on the Supreme Court.
Others could not remotely come close to that statement and survive. Whether that’s right or wrong, I think that’s a fact.
GRAHAM: Does that make sense to you?

You know what? If that comes of this hearing, the hearing has been worth it all, that some people deserve a second chance when they misspeak and you would look at the entire life story to determine whether this is an aberration or just a reflection of your real soul. If that comes from this hearing, then we’ve probably done the country some good.

The thing is, Sen. Graham obviously doesn’t appreciate that Sotomayor has already done this country good with her service thus far on the bench. She, nor any other Supreme Court nominee needs the forgiveness of any U.S. Senator to achieve a seat on the court.
What every nominee needs is to be asked questions without being ridiculed or spoken to in a condescending manner. While the tone of the hearings has been civil, the statements from those Republican senators who are choosing to be “tough” have been far less.
But a civil tone can mask even the greatest of insulting behavior.
While the nation is witnessing a historic moment for the Latino community, it’s also witnessing a display that borders on racism and is masked by congressional approval.

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20 Comments

  1. Horace said:

    Racial harrassment? Not on your life. Congress has the right to know if SM has a racial/ethnic bias for her own tribe just as they would like to know whether a white candidate is biased towards whites.
    The “wise Latina” remark sounds as racially biased as if the same thing had been said by an Anglo person asserting the primacy of Anglos. Why should she be immune to criticism that Anglos would be subjected to. When a government official says something stupid as that in public, he/she can expect to pay the price. This woman is a victim of her own ill considered comments. Stop whining about it, as you expose your naivete. I doubt that minority groups would give the benefit of the doubt to a white nominee.

  2. Horace said:

    “The problem is that while hard questions were expected, the line of questioning forcing her to practically denounce the statement isn’t seen as having anything to do with her qualifications as a Supreme Court justice.”
    As much as you’d like everyone to ignore the elephant in the room, you have to be rather immature to believe that this wasn’t going to be brought up. And yes, the belief of a SCOTUS candidate in racial/ethnic superiority is a valid concern to Congress. I challenge you be so crazy to deny that this wouldn’t be an issue if a white guy had said this about a white SCOTUS candidate.

  3. Grandma said:

    “The problem is that while hard questions were expected, the line of questioning forcing her to practically denounce the statement isn’t seen as having anything to do with her qualifications as a Supreme Court justice”.
    This statement is hypocricy at its best. What she said, not once, not twice, but many times over the years, has everything to do with her decisions as a Supreme Court Justice. Are you saying it’s okay for her to make a racist statement, but it’s not okay to be questioned about it by “white men” or is it just “Republican white men”? Lindsey Graham was right. You already have his head.

  4. Karen said:

    Sessions, Kyle and Graham made fools of themselves with their ridiculous line of questioning. They can’t criticize her case law or her legal reasoning, so they have to rely on lines from old speeches taken out of context.
    These Republican Senators are no match for her. They can’t trip her up. She was calm and answered their stupid questions in detail. She will be confirmed.

  5. Joe Ortiz said:

    Based on the condescending and patronizingly scrutiny and comments made by the two senators, Judge Sonia Sotomayor has proven that her “wise Latina” statement actually rings true, and should be acknowledged from the highest steeples of American conscience.
    It does not take a cultural scientist, psychologist or historian to recognize their scathing and scolding remarks are mere reminders that you should never speak ill of the master, or they will grind you down until you cry “Uncle.”
    Judge Sotomayor should not be criticized nor condemned by her fellow Latinos and supporters for recanting (to a certain degree) a statement she (and other Latinos) recognize to be truth.
    Unlike the scrutinizers, Sotomayor apologized for making (at the worst) a prideful but yet discourteous remark. The juvenile comments by the two senators definitely proved to most Americans that “white men” do look down on minorities. They always have.
    However, the political and cultural landscape for Latinos is changing right before our very eyes, and this disdainful and patronizing majority may soon come to regret their prevailing arrogance.
    Joe Ortiz, Author
    “Why Christians Will Suffer Great Tribulation.”

  6. irma said:

    Sotomayor knows that Sessions, Kyle and Graham are just posturing. She will be confirmed and will have a greater impact on the future of the country than all 3 of those people combined.
    It is, however, disappointing that members of the US Senate would pander to their constituents in such a shameless fashion.
    If Sotomayor was disabled and had no legs, and she had said that her disability gives her a perspective that healthy people dont have- would Lindsey Graham have chastised her for that ? By his logic he would have. The hypocrisy displayed during the Sotomayor confirmation hearings is frankly disgusting.

  7. irma said:

    Marisa,
    Elizabeth Landau of CNN has written a strange biographical piece on Sotomayor.
    See: http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/07/15/sotomayor.college/index.html
    I take issue with her pointing out that
    Sotomayor “struggled” with her freshman
    year but “eventually” graduated summa
    cum laude. Freshman year is traumatic for most people even those coming from
    the best prep schools in the country.
    But, most people dont end up graduating summa cum laude! Odd, that Landau chose to focus on the freshman year.
    The article is disappointing and attempts to diminish the remarkable accomplishments of yes, a “wise Latina.”
    I am about the same age as Sotomayor.
    I also felt out of place in college my freshman year (in my case, Rice). Culturally it was a shock, and an adventure. Our country will be a better place because Sonia Sotomayor stuck it out at Princeton. Landau didnt choose to say that.

  8. Texano78704 said:

    Republican wingnut Senators are just trying to get a few swipes in to play to their base. For example, the pocket racist, Senator Sessions, gets some comeuppance as a result of his questioning of Judge Sotomayor.
    Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), seeking to discredit Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy, cited her 2001 “wise Latina” speech, and contrasted the view that ethnicity and sex influence judging with that of Judge Miriam Cedarbaum, who “believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices.”
    “My friend Judge Cedarbaum is here,” Sotomayor riposted, to Sessions’s apparent surprise. “We are good friends, and I believe that we both approach judging in the same way, which is looking at the facts of each individual case and applying the law to those facts.”
    And what does Cedarbaum think about Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy?
    “I don’t believe for a minute that there are any differences in our approach to judging, and her personal predilections have no affect on her approach to judging.”
    Oops. That has to be embarrassing
    And an added bonus from the article:
    In 1986, Cedarbaum and Sessions were both nominated to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan, and were members of the same orientation class for future judges. Their paths then diverged, however. Cedarbaum was confirmed, but Sessions’s nomination floundered over a controversy surrounding comments he made involving the Ku Klux Klan and the NAACP.
    … because there can never be too many mentions of Sessions’ affinity for the Ku Klux Klan.

  9. cookie said:

    Taken out of context? I don’t think so. Unfortunately in our PC world for miniorities she propably will be oonfirmed by the Democrats.

  10. Horace said:

    “It is, however, disappointing that members of the US Senate would pander to their constituents in such a shameless fashion.”
    Oh really, Irma? Do we really have to wonder what the Hispanic caucus is doing when they meet? Hmmm….I’m sure that they are considering the welfare of Norwegian Americans in Minnesota, or Irish Americans from Boston. Do you really think that every Senator should ignore his/her constituency to please you? Anyone else find Irma’s comment to be ridiculous?

  11. leaortiz said:

    Sotamayor herself has made the statement that she is the perfect example of being an affirmative action baby herself.
    She has not answered any questions that are important. She knows a lot of large words, and knows how to dance around an answer in such a clever way.
    The woman is getting a pass in this ridiculous excuse of a vetting with these questions. The Republicans asking questions of this woman that puts her race and that of other ethnics over another race are not hard enough on her. When Miguel Estrada was being questioned, democrats said he should not sit on the bench BECAUSE he is hispanic. SO which way do democrats want it? Oh I see, NOW an extremely radical left leaning judge that will not make decisions based on fairness, but on law as in the case of the firefighters (one being hispanic by the way), everyone is scared to call her on it. Tiptoeing around her own racism against whites.
    Sad thing is, with this kangaroo hearing, she will make it to the Supreme Court.
    The very thing that ethnics have accused whites of is now happening in reverse. REVERSE discrimination is very real.

  12. irma said:

    To Lea Ortiz:
    Sotamayor herself has made the statement that she is the perfect example of being an affirmative action baby herself.
    Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg is also an
    “affirmative action baby.” She says so herself, see NYT interview (last Sunday Magazine, I believe).
    The principal beneficiaries of affirmative action have been WHITE women.
    Before affirmative action, there were almost no women (white or not) in medical schools, law school, graduate school etc, in the US Senate, on the Supreme Court etc. BECAUSE of affirmative action, white men were
    legally FORCED to be fair and admit or appoint white women to these positions.
    Most of the time these women were qualified (sometimes they were not ).
    Affirmative action also protects people of color (black, brown, yellow etc) and people with disabilities . But, if you look at the percentage of minorities in medical schools/law schools/grad schools – there has been no major increase in numbers (on a per cent basis) since the early 1970s. On the other hand WHITE women now comprise 50% of the class in medical schools/law schools now compared to about 10% in the 1970s.
    Translation? White women have benefitted more from affirmative action than blacks and Hispanics.

  13. Horace said:

    How can you tell a democrat is lying. The answer is, his lips are moving.
    This is a quote from democrat Senator Leahy at the current hearings. Good thing he wasn’t under oath. He would have been arrested for perjury:
    “You said that, quote, you ‘would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would reach wise decisions’”.
    Perhaps, as the Lone Wackho blogger said, “Leahy is lying and doing so outrageously. Here’s the accurate version of Sotomayor’s famous comment”:
    “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”.
    Or perhaps he isn’t lying just stupid or demented. If lying, it proves that democrats have no personal integrity and will stoop to distorting the facts to make their candidate look good in public.

  14. Willy Peterson said:

    “….but women and people of color who have been historically subjected to this kind of authoritarian treatment.”
    Yeah, mostly by Latino men.

  15. leaortiz said:

    Irma: I don’t normally don’t address just one person.
    Do you fully understand what affirmative action laws are and why they were formed?

  16. Horace said:

    “Based on the condescending and patronizingly scrutiny and comments made by the two senators, Judge Sonia Sotomayor has proven that her “wise Latina” statement actually rings true, and should be acknowledged from the highest steeples of American conscience.”
    Oh really Ortiz, you too believe in the racial superiority of Latinos as evidenced by their wisdom? You’re not content to restrict it to the congressmen who asked the questions. Maybe she’s just wise because she is exceptional human being, and race has absolutely nothing to do with it. Imagine if the “white boys” Evelyn so abuses would claim superior wisdom based upon their race. It would seem that racism is rife among Latinos. Perhaps its their tendency to build themselves up by putting others down. If being Latino is criteria for being wise, it’s not borne out by the comments of some Latinos in this blog.

  17. LeaOrtiz said:

    Horace, I thought you were talking to me. LOL
    El nombre de mi padre es Ortiz.

  18. Evelyn said:

    Imagine if the “white boys” Evelyn so abuses would claim superior wisdom based upon their race.
    ~
    How can you tell when Horace is lying, his lips are moving.

  19. Horace said:

    Sorry Lea, I was actually addressing Joe Ortiz’s comment.

  20. irma said:

    Lea Ortiz,
    My understanding of affirmative action is the SAME at that of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She stated in the NYT this month that she was granted tenure at Columbia Law School
    (the first woman ever) BECAUSE of
    affirmative action.
    Do you think your interpretation of
    affirmative action is correct and
    Ruth Bader Ginsberg is WRONG ?
    When Sandra ‘ O Connor graduated
    from Stanford Law School in the early 1950s, she was number 3 in the class.
    Yet , ,the only job offered to her by law
    firms were secretarial jobs. I am sure that #4 in her graduating class ( a male) wasnt offered a secretarial job.
    Affirmative action was crafted to ensure that women, minorities ( of either sex),
    and people with physical diabilities
    are given a fair shake in their pursuit of jobs, admission to higher education programs etc.
    As I stated before women (mailnly white women) have been the principal beneficiaries. Minority women are a favorite of affirmative action – as they count as 2 applications of affirmative action.
    These days, white women generally have not been denied opportunities because of their sex – but all over the country there are a number of active lawsuits raised by white women where denied tenure in the academia which allege sex discrimination. A goal of affirmative action is to protect against sex discrimination.
    This is what Judge Ginsberg is talking about.

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