Commentary Magazine


Judge Sotomayor, in Her Own Words

A lot of controversy has been generated by Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s statement “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” In an effort to repair the damage, President Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said, “Well, I think if you look at the context of the longer speech that she makes, I don’t — I think what she says is very much common sense in terms of different experiences that different people have.”

Having decided to take Mr. Gibbs up on his challenge, I have read Judge Sotomayor’s 2001 lecture, delivered at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. (It was later published in the Spring 2002 issue of the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal.) What is clear is that Ms. Sotomayor’s locution wasn’t simply a stray line or lazy formulation, as President Obama would have us believe. It was, instead, a line that perfectly captured a particular worldview. It acted as a capstone to an argument.

There are several important passages to analyze in Judge Sotomayor’s lecture (which I will quote at length, to ensure the context is fair). They include this one:

While recognizing the potential effect of individual experiences on perception, Judge [Miriam] Cedarbaum nevertheless believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law. Although I agree with and attempt to work toward Judge Cedarbaum’s aspiration, I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases.

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