Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Shelby Steele Unplugged

In a breathtakingly blunt column, Shelby Steele argues that the Sotomayor nomination reveals Obama’s promise of post-racialism to be a lie:

Throughout her career Judge Sotomayor has demonstrated a Hispanic chauvinism so extreme that it sometimes crosses into outright claims of racial supremacy, as in 2001 when she said in a lecture at the University of California, Berkeley, “a wise Latina woman . . . would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male.”

The White House acknowledges that this now famous statement — both racist and dim-witted — was turned up in the vetting process. So we can only assume that the president was aware of it, as well as Judge Sotomayor’s career-long claim that ethnicity and gender are virtual determinisms in judging: We need diversity because, as she said in her Berkeley lecture, “inherent physiological or cultural differences . . . make a difference in our judging.” The nine white male justices who decided the Brown school-desegregation case in 1954 might have felt otherwise, as would a president seeking to lead us toward a new, post-racial society.

And, as Shelby observes, rather than rejecting the model of perpetual grievance and identity politics, Obama chose someone who exemplifies it: “But in the real world of Supreme Court nominations, where there is a chance to actually bring some of that idealism down to earth, he chooses a hardened, divisive and race-focused veteran of the culture wars he claims to transcend.”

Her many speeches (“wise Latina” and others), the perpetual agitation for more minority hiring in elite schools, and the membership in La Raza and like-minded organizations do convey the picture of someone utterly devoted to racial preferences and identity politics. These are the telltale signs of what Steel calls “challengers” –  those who see “the moral authority that comes from their group’s historic grievance as an entitlement to immediate parity with whites — whether or not their group has actually earned this parity through development.” But does this matter for a judge? Very much so – and we’ve seen it play out. As Shelby points out:

Challengers are essentially team players. Their deepest atavistic connection is to their aggrieved race, ethnicity or gender. Toward the larger society that now often elevates and privileges them, they carry a lingering bad faith — and sometimes a cavalier disregard where whites are concerned, as with Judge Sotomayor in the Ricci case.

Well, I’m not sure it’s bad faith (and I wouldn’t attribute any ill-will on her part to the nation at large), but it certainly requires that one suspend disbelief (to borrow a phrase) that there are no resulting casualties in the practicing the politics of race. Frank Ricci reminds us that there are.

And let’s not forget: on the Supreme Court, with a lifetime appointment, there will be few, if any, restraints on her ability to apply that mentality to the cases before her and to use her perch on the Court to spread the “challenger” gospel. Given that, the Senate should think hard, very hard about this nomination.