Commentary Magazine


Double Standard-itis

Stuart Taylor notes the concern among some critics of the Sotomayor pick:

The choice of Sotomayor also puts Republicans and moderate Democrats who may be deeply unhappy with her jurisprudence in a lose-lose position, and Obama in a win-win position. If Republicans attack Judge Sotomayor’s more controversial actions, they risk provoking a backlash among Hispanic voters, who have already been moving into the Democratic column in droves.

Let me just observe the irony in those who criticize Sotomayor for declaring that “a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn’t lived that life” themselves being subject to a tidal wave of complaints because no one can just go around questioning the intellectual bona fides of Latinas. Or something like that. The double standards leave you dizzy.

Howard Kurtz reports:

Some critics say Sotomayor’s Hispanic heritage and modest background should play no role in judging her fitness for the high court. But after Sotomayor spoke of being raised by a single mother in the South Bronx, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said: “I would hate to be a senator on the Judiciary Committee who tried to give that person a hard time.”

Wow, isn’t it grand to live in a country where a Latina can be nominated for the highest court and then treated with kid gloves because everyone is scared to treat her like any other nominee? Not so much, actually.

But let’s be honest: there is a political reality to what Taylor says. Senators, like all politicians, are remarkably sensitive to being labeled “racist” — or the less inflammatory version, “insensitive.” (No, it didn’t insulate Clarence Thomas from a political onslaught but the rules are different, we all know, for a conservative nominee.)

So what do conservatives do? Stick to the point. The point is impartiality. The point is whether, as Richard Cohen notes, it’s time to jettison the mindset of racial favoritism. (“Blatant affirmative action always entailed a disturbing and ex post facto changing of the rules — oops, you’re white. Sorry, not what we wanted.”) The point is what Sotomayor thinks her job as a judge is, as distinct from what the job of a legislator or president is.

After all, it is Sotomayor who must avoid playing the racial victim and convince the Senate and the country she’s not a proponent of a racial spoils system at odds with Americans’ sense of fairness. If she and her proponents balk at the same sort of questions John Roberts, Sam Alito, and others before them endured, the jig will be up.

So it’s simple, really: Ask the questions, let the judge speak. Let the country decide.

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