Saturday, May 18, 2024

Diversity Front and Center at Confirmation Hearings


On Sunday, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, accused Republicans of playing the race card in regards to Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor. “You have one leader of the Republican Party call her the equivalent of the head of the Ku Klux Klan. Another leader of the Republican Party called her a bigot,” said Leahy on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He continued, “The leadership of the Republican Party came out against her long before we had the hearings, long before they looked at her record. I think that’s unfair.”

“I hope we don’t go back to the day when we used to have African-Americans up for confirmation and say yes, but you belong to the NAACP so we’re really suspicious of you,” said Leahy. “Come on, stop the racial politics. …”

Senator Jeff Sessions (R- Alabama), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, attempted to interject saying “Come on, Pat, I want to disagree…” but Leahy did not allow him to speak and said, “That’s what comes across. It comes across that if you belong to a group that tries to help Hispanics … somehow you’re suspicious. The same arguments were used against Thurgood Marshall, and I think it’s wrong.”

A number of Republicans have been critical of Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” remark and recently her membership in a number of Hispanic organizations is being scrutinized. Former Republican Representative Tom Tancredo condemned Sotomayor for her membership to the National Council of La Raza, calling the organization “a Latino KKK without the hoods or nooses.”

Well known conservative and radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has called Sotomayor a “bigot and a racist.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the nominee a “racist” but later rescinded his remark and said that in the confirmation hearings Sotomayor came off as “dramatically more moderate.”

Senator Sessions defended his party by saying “no Republican leader said she was a bigot,” rather he felt his colleagues were simply conducting a vigorous investigation of her background. Senator Sessions would not say how he plans to vote on the confirmation, but he did say that her work with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund bothered him because he believes the group is “very aggressive” in supporting abortion rights.

Senator Leahy is confidant that Sotomayor will receive support from both sides of the aisle. At least three Republican Senators have already said they will support her: Mel Martinez of Florida, Dick Lugar of Indiana and Olympia Snowe of Maine.

Sotomayor’s nomination is non-doubt historic and before the confirmation hearings began her Latino heritage was viewed as an asset but some believe that the confirmation hearings have left much to be desired. The criticism she has received throughout the questioning resulted in her rejecting the notion of her heritage being an asset.  “This is a great first, but we are not being allowed to celebrate it in the way we are allowed to celebrate Thurgood Marshall as the first African American on the court,” said Laura Gomez, a University of New Mexico law professor.

Republican questioning focused on their beliefs that she would be unable to remain impartial on the bench. “It was extremely disappointing and a walk backward from the point of diversity,” Sherrilyn Ifill, a law professor at the University of Maryland, explained. “This was not a productive conversation. It was unfortunate posturing by the Republicans. This was an all-white judiciary committee asking condescending questions. And it was an unequal power situation. She was not in a position to honestly engage with them, because she needed their votes.”

Sotomayor “ended up disavowing many of her previous statements or trying to reinterpret them,” said Ilya Somin of George Mason University School of Law. “More significantly, she ended up publicly rejecting the president’s view that empathy should often guide judicial decision-making,” he said.

Democratic members of the judiciary committee generally avoided the issue of Sotomayor’s heritage, shifting the focus instead to her 17-years of experience so that her Puerto Rican heritage and Bronx upbringing were rarely brought up in a positive context.

Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, believes the GOP senators “were playing to the angry white male voter. Some of the remarks were clearly about saying that ‘you’ can say things that ‘we’ can’t.” He continued “These kinds of comments attacking ethnic pride and the benefits of diversity in any institution — which is really what her remark was about — combined with the Ricci case looked like backlash politics, pure and simple.”


LA Times