In the aftermath of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the media has focused most centrally on one thing: that she’s Hispanic. And this fascination with Sotomayor’s cultural heritage is hardly limited to the New York Times editorial board, which referenced Sotomayor’s Puerto Rican roots as a key reason for supporting her confirmation only a day after she was nominated.
Indeed, this blatant foray into identity politics is coming just as strongly from the right. In this vein, check out yesterday’s Wall Street Journal front-page headline, which blared, “Hispanic Picked for Top Court” — not “Sotomayor Picked for Top Court” (doesn’t her last name imply her heritage for those interested?); nor “Second Circuit Judge Picked for Top Court.” Or check out Karl Rove downplaying Sotomayor as a Hispanic trailblazer in the op-ed that Jen referenced:
… Judge Sotomayor will become the second Hispanic (Benjamin Cardozo was Sephardic) …
(Calling Cardozo Hispanic is misleading, if not incorrect: Cardozo’s family resettled in Holland after the Spanish Inquisition — not somewhere in Latin America, which is the broad region to which most people are referring by the term “Hispanic.”)
Ultimately, the emphasis on Sotomayor’s heritage in analyzing her nomination and confirmation prospects can be traced to one common cause: journalistic laziness. After all, Sotomayor has served as a federal judge since 1992 and has issued perhaps thousands of rulings — yet it is far easier to discuss the superficial than to attempt any comprehensive analysis of her plethora of prior decisions. Indeed, it is much easier to call her a “racist” for one misguided remark claiming that a “wise Latina woman” would make a better judge than a white male — or to cast her off as a strict “identity politics” pick — than it is to assemble a representative sample of her judicial work.
So here’s one suggestion for the next time we have a judicial nomination: force the nominee to appear in public with a convenient American Bar Association rating stamped on his or her forehead. This will simplify talking heads’ jobs considerably, allowing them to evaluate the most central question regarding new Supreme Court justices: how will they affect the court’s ideological — not its cultural or gender — balance?