let me be very clear: i know very little about supreme court nominee sonia sotomayor. here’s what i do know, though:
specifically, the speech was given at a symposium concerning latinos in the judicial sphere. while the entire speech is worth reading (which you can do here), the particular part that has some people so upset is the following (i have very slightly edited this for space, but i’ve tried to be careful not to edit the meaning):
Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences…our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am…not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, 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.Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.
all this hearkens back, originally, with conservatives’ problem with obama’s remarks about nominating a supreme court justice who is “empathetic”. suddenly, empathy, apparently, is a very dirty political word. despite the cultural and political backlash from his remarks, obama’s nomination has certainly delivered on the promise of empathy. so, with the discovery of her 2001 speech at uc berkeley, the controversy has been even further ignited.
quite frankly, sotomayor’s remarks have made me much more interested in her judicial competency for broader cultural, sociological and theological reasons (as opposed to purely judiciary reasons). while many with objections and reservations have harped on the perceived forfeiture of facts for experience-driven decision-making, i see her remarks as more of a keen observation of a longtime reality and increasing cultural sensibilities (read: postmodernism, if you will).