Quote of the Day: Conservative Republicans’ Double Standard On Sotomayor
Our political Quote of the Day comes from a long must-read column by Dick Polman who details how there is a double standard in conservative Republicans’ criticism of Obama Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor — one that does indeed involve “race,” but not in the way conservatives have in mind:
Conservative activists are in a lather over Sonia Sotomayor’s frank acknowledgment that her thought process as a high court judge would be influenced by her life as an Hispanic woman. They cite such remarks as proof that she would pursue a “liberal activist” or even “racist” agenda with scant regard for the rule of law or judicial impartiality.
All of which prompts me to pose a few questions:
Are we supposed to believe that white male judges have never been influenced by their lives as white males? How come “life experience” is trumpeted as a scary concept only when the life in question belongs to an Hispanic female nominee? How come, whenever a white male is successfully tapped for the U.S. Supreme Court (thus far, 106 out of 110 seats), nobody voices concern about the potential jurisprudential impact of the white male life experience? Apparently, she just has the wrong kind.
Polman details the controversy over Sotomayor’s remarks and then concludes:
For instance, check out these remarks: “My background and my experiences have shaped me and brought me to this point…When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.”
That’s gotta be Sotomayor, right? Vowing to tap into her family’s Hispanic immigrant experience? Getting all empathetic and emotional, just as the conservatives predict? Vowing to behave like a scary “Hispanic supremacist” (the label affixed to her last week by an anti-immigration group)?
Wrong. Those remarks was uttered by Bush nominee Samuel Alito, while testifying at his Senate confirmation hearing in 2005. He was vowing to tap into his family’s Italian immigrant experience as part of his deliberative process. Somehow I don’t recall hearing any conservative outcry about Alito and his life experience.
So, to review: When a white guy vows to factor in his life experience, the Republican right says zip. When an Hispanic woman vows to do the same, a southern GOP senator like Jeff Sessions asserts that such a thing violates “the great American heritage.” There’s a big reason why the Republicans are in serious danger of losing the Hispanic vote for at least a generation, and we’re seeing it play out now.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once stated the obvious as well: “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” Maybe what’s needed most, in our most rarified be-robed priesthood, is a bit more life diversity, to reflect our 21st-century pluralism. Sotomayer’s conservative critics might be wise to view that diversity not as a threat, but as a celebration.’
Read it in its entirety.
And there are no signs that conservative GOPers are relenting. The Washington Post has an editorial in which is says that Sotomayor has the very qualities conservatives insisted were missing in ill-fated Bush nominee Harriet Miers, then writes:
Because it is difficult to dismiss her academic credentials and her professional experience, some on the right have resorted to the politics of personal destruction. Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice said in a radio interview that Judge Sotomayor was picked because “she’s a woman and Hispanic, not because she was the best qualified.” Former congressman Tom Tancredo sank to even greater depths when he called Judge Sotomayor a “racist” for her past affiliation with the Hispanic advocacy group, the National Council of La Raza; Mr. Tancredo called La Raza “a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses.” Former Bush adviser Karl Rove implicitly questioned Judge Sotomayor’s intelligence, saying in an interview with PBS host Charlie Rose that “I know lots of stupid people who went to Ivy League schools.” No doubt, but would Mr. Rove have said the same thing in connection with Justice Alito?
There are plenty of lines of inquiry that should be explored to better discern Judge Sotomayor’s qualifications and judicial philosophy. We look forward to a vigorous debate about Judge Sotomayor’s more controversial and consequential cases. We would like to hear more from Judge Sotomayor on how gender and ethnicity might help — as she put it — a “wise Latina” judge come to a “better” conclusion in some cases than a white, male jurist. (The president recently said Judge Sotomayor regretted her choice of words.) Above all, we’d welcome a confirmation process that sets aside rancid stereotypes and sexist assumptions in order to explore the record and philosophy of a woman whose work could affect the country for some time to come.
Meanwhile, The Politico reports that conservatives are pressing GOPers in Congress to be rougher on Sotomayor – and one of those doing the pressing has a reputation as a mega-partisan:
Conservatives are demanding that Senate Republicans take a harder line on Sonia Sotomayor, with new signs of tension between the Hill GOP and elements of the Republican base over the direction the opposition should move in the Supreme Court fight.
In a letter to be delivered to Senate Republicans Tuesday, more than 145 conservatives – including Grover Norquist, Richard Viguerie and Gary Bauer — call for a filibuster of Sotomayor’s nomination if that’s what it takes to force a “great debate” over judicial philosophy.
But in an interview with POLITICO, Manuel Miranda – who orchestrated the letter – went much farther, saying that Mitch McConnell should “consider resigning” as Senate minority leader if he can’t take a harder line on President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court nominee.
Miranda accused McConnell of being “limp-wristed” and “a little bit tone deaf” when it comes to judicial nominees.
Miranda, now the chairman of the conservative Third Branch Conference, served as counsel to McConnell’s predecessor, then-Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist. He left that job in 2004 amid allegations that he improperly accessed thousands of memos and emails from Democratic staffers – circumstances McConnell’s supporters recalled as they pushed back hard against Miranda’s arguments Monday.
“It’s unfortunate that one disgraced former employee of previous Senate leadership has decided to air out his grievances rather than join the conservative effort to examine Judge Sotomayor’s record,” said a senior GOP Senate aide. “Not only did this guy steal the Democrats’ playbook, he seems to be implementing it.”
And, indeed, this is what the battle has come down to.
Are Republicans going to give the Democrats a nice, advance Christmas gift, all wrapped up with a beautiful bow? Will they alienate Latino voters by indulging in a demonization campaign versus indulging in vigorous debate over policies? (For those who insist they just simply cannot understand what the word “demonize” means versus “vigorous debate,” a phrase we use often on this site, apart from the fact that “demonize” is a word whose first syllable explains itself, re-read the Washington Post excerpts above about what is being said about Sotomayor by some and then what the Post hopes will happen in actual debate. If that doesn’t do it, just do an internet search which should make it understandable).
The SMART approach would be for Republicans to use the hearings to show through solid, respectful questions what kind of justice they would like to have on the court, the party’s values on specifics and on broader issues — and to see if Sotomayor measures up to it. And, if not, respectfully make the case for why a justice needs to share their approach. Showing some thoughtful lawmakers asking tough questions on policy and philosophy could impress some voters who don’t have a political axe to grind in her confirmation — or her defeat. If it’s personal, with questions loaded with defining, talk radio style attack adjectives or game-playing wording, it won’t play well with Latino voters…and some other voters.
The SMART broader strategy for Republicans would be to start putting aside the tactic of defining opponents (calling people “limp wristed” might have worked in the 50s but it is not going to persuade some Americans to vote for your party since it says more about the mentality of the person who uses that phrase than the intended recipient).
The bottom line is that if you view all of this together it still comes down to whether Republicans want to expand the GOP tent — or carefully check the credentials of all who try to get into it and station ideological bouncers with “I LOVE RUSH” buttons throwing out some of those who try to get in
If they’re thrown out or can’t get in — Hispanic and non-Hispanic voters alike –just guess where they will go instead?