All the hubbub about Sonia Sotomayor and her remarks about how race and gender interact with jurisprudence has gotten more than out of control.
The problem for them, of course, is that we've got the official record of some Republican appointed Justices, and their words live forever on the Interets. First, there was Sam Alito, who said very clearly:
ALITO: I don't come from an affluent background or a privileged background. My parents were both quite poor when they were growing up.
And I know about their experiences and I didn't experience those things. I don't take credit for anything that they did or anything that they overcame....
Because when a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position...
When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account. When I have a case involving someone who's been subjected to discrimination because of disability, I have to think of people who I've known and admire very greatly who've had disabilities, and I've watched them struggle to overcome the barriers that society puts up often just because it doesn't think of what it's doing -- the barriers that it puts up to them.
So those are some of the experiences that have shaped me as a person.
Of course life experience shapes the lens of judgment, but apparently it's only ok to say that out loud if you're a Republican. Or white. Travel back in time 28 years, to the first woman on the Supreme Court, Reagan appointee Sandra Day O'Connor and what she had to say in a Lady's Home Journal interview unearthed by Greg Sargent:
While O’Connor also said there were other factors that influence her judging more than her gender, she clearly said it was a factor. Here’s how the Associated Press reported her comments in March of 1982 (via Nexis):
The first woman on the high court tends to play down that role somewhat. “I think that I bring to the court differences in background that are more germane than my gender,” she said.
“My experience as a legislator gives me a different perspective. Also, I bring to the court the perspective of a woman primarily in a sense that I am female, just as I am white, a college graduate, etc.
“Yes, I will bring the understanding of a woman to the court, but I doubt that that alone will affect my decisions,” she said. “I think the important fact about my appointment is not that I will decide cases as a woman, but that I am a woman who will get to decide cases.”
On another occasion, O’Connor similarly suggested that race impacts one’s judging, too. After the retirement of legendary Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, O’Connor said approvingly that Marshall “imparted not only his legal acumen but also his life experiences” to the bench. That is certainly a partial reference to Marshall’s race.
So the lesson learned is that life experiences, including race and gender, are only a positive thing if you are nominated by a Bush or a Reagan.