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Sotomayor vs. Thomas

The New York Times sets up an interesting comparison between Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas. For the former, it’s all about race and ethnicity, all the time. Thomas abhors affirmative action and identity politics. The Times paints an illuminating picture of the nominee:

Judge Sotomayor celebrates being Latina, calling it a reason for her success; Justice Thomas bristles at attempts to define him by race and says he has succeeded despite the obstacles it posed. Being a woman of Puerto Rican descent is rich and fulfilling, Judge Sotomayor says, while Justice Thomas calls being a black man in America a largely searing experience. Off the bench, Judge Sotomayor has helped build affirmative action programs. On the bench, Justice Thomas has argued against them with thunderous force.

[. . .]

Ms. Sotomayor also became a passionate advocate for Hispanic recruitment. She took a work-study job in the admissions office, traveling to high schools and lobbying on behalf of her best prospects. As co-chairwoman of Accíon Puertorriqueña, she wrote a complaint accusing Princeton of discrimination, convinced the leaders of the Chicano Caucus to co-sign it and filed it with the federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

[. . .]

Again [at Ylae Law School], she immersed herself in Puerto Rican issues, winning a spot on the law review with an article about Puerto Rico’s rights to resources in its seabed, leading the minority students’ association and urging the administration to hire a tenured Hispanic faculty member. (A quarter-century later, she is still pressing the school on the issue.)

When voters elected the “post-racial” Obama did they envision nominees like Sotomayor and the race-based programs and preferences to which she has devoted herself? Or did they expect the Thomas “get over it” view in which we put behind us the obsession with race, quotas, etc. ? The answer is different, of course, for different voters. But the polls suggest the Thomas view is the one held by the vast majority of voters.

This should be a fascinating confirmation hearing. And coming at a time when the Supreme Court will be handing down decisions on the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and on the New Haven firefighter case, there will be, I suspect, a nation-wide debate about all of this. The administration and the national media may be stunned to find out that Thomas is in the “mainstream” on this one and they, Sotomayor, and Obama are not.



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