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Sotomayor Enters the D.C. Twilight Zone

Posted on Jul 15, 2009

By Ellen Goodman

    I have long been a collector of sports metaphors, but I never expected such a treasure of memorabilia to come out of a Senate hearing room. At times it sounded more like the all-star game than the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice. I could have organized an office pool guessing the number of times senators would say “balls and strikes” (13) or “umpire” (16).

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    The members of the Judiciary Committee riffed on the idea of judge-as-umpire. Alas, no comment could trump Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions’ prehearing pitch for a “blindfolded justice calling the balls and strikes fairly and objectively.” YES! Just what we need in the big leagues! An umpire wearing a blindfold!

    But this was not just jock-talk. Or a play for impartiality. It was a thinly veiled anxiety attack at the idea that Sonia Sotomayor might be a team player for Liberals v. Conservatives or, worse yet, the Girls and Latina Team v. the White Boys.

    The specter haunting Sotomayor was that “Wise Latina Woman.” What seemed radical to the Republican committeemen was her hint that a WLW “with the richness of her experiences” might make wiser decisions than ... THEM! She might even, as Texas Sen. John Cornyn said darkly, want to “advance causes or groups.”

    This was the lineup at the hearings. Sotomayor sat stoically while a pugnacious Sessions lectured her on the role of a judge and a patronizing Lindsey Graham told her she had a reputation as a “bit of a bully.”


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    The would-be first Latina justice faced a committee with only two women members in order to get confirmed by a Senate with only 17 women for a seat on a court with only one woman. And yet Sotomayor had to prove that she wasn’t biased: “Men and women [are] equally capable of being wise and fair judges.”

    Also at stake—or at bat if you prefer—were the judge’s earlier musings about the importance of different life experiences: “I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on gender and my Latina heritage.” She also said: “I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society.” A horrified Sessions called this “philosophically incompatible with the American system.”

    I am, of course, charmed to see conservatives decrying gender differences as un-American since they long used differences to justify women’s second-class status. Better they should turn their wrath on talk show host G. Gordon Liddy, who said of Sotomayor: “Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating.”

    It was women who fought the idea that men and women were intrinsically different and therefore unequal. But by the time Sotomayor became a judge, more women felt free to “wonder”: Did we have to fit the (male) norm to be equal, or could we change it?

    Wasn’t it OK—even important—for women to bring a different perspective to the table when talking about science, violence, business? Couldn’t they bring a different perspective to the bench when listening to Lilly Ledbetter plead for equal pay, or to a 13-year-old who was strip-searched?

    A wise Latina woman doesn’t engage in a philosophical discussion while the boys are talking sports. But in my experience, when women are asked to “rise above” their experience, to ignore the difference in background, they are often being told to expunge the female and to think/work/live/rule like a man. Score one for the status quo.

    Clarence Thomas, a fierce advocate for impartiality, has said with icy passion, “In order to be a judge, a person must attempt to exorcise himself or herself of the passions, thoughts, and emotions that fill any frail human being. He must become almost pure, in the way that fire purifies metal, before he can decide a case.” Compare that to Sotomayor’s comment Tuesday that we are not robots: “I think the system is strengthened when judges don’t assume they’re impartial.” 

    Yes, we are more than a sum total of our experiences. No, the huge majority of cases have nothing to do with race or gender, or being a diabetic for that matter. Yes, judges see through their own lens and beyond it.

    But if I may revert to the sports metaphor, this judge who thinks deeply about both life and the law is ready to take the field for the Supremes.

    Ellen Goodman’s e-mail address is ellengoodman1(at)

    © 2009, Washington Post Writers Group

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By daRaL, December 29, 2009 at 12:14 am Link to this comment

The GOP inquisitors have only strikes these days, no…
So they strut their stuff hinting that all their faults would disqualify some one from the Supreme Court. forex

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By daRaL, December 29, 2009 at 12:11 am Link to this comment

The GOP inquisitors have only strikes these days, no…
So they strut their stuff hinting that all their faults would disqualify some one from the Supreme Court. forex | ?ark? sözleri |

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By Logician, July 21, 2009 at 4:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Goodman would have broken her keyboard pounding out her “righteous indignation!” if an older white male had made the very same remark in reverse *over five times* in print and speeches.  This country would have drowned in the ink of people calling that white male a “racist, misogynistic bigot.”
I truly don’t give a damn about whether she makes it or not, but I have grown sick of the filthy hypocrisy marring the left.  We spit and sputter and cry and whine when the right wing white pigs make such statements, but when a woman makes an equally racist, hateful statement, we say, “good for her!”
Well, there is NO defense for her statement. NONE!  It was racist, it was gender biased, and just plain stupid not just to make, but to repeat again and again.
She gets no free ride for making a racist, hate filled statement.  And I am disgusted that we lefties are putrid with hypocrisy over this and there is NO defense for it!  It IS hypocritical to say, “It’s okay for a Latino to be prejudiced, but not a white man.”
And don’t even start with the whining and the crying, “But they’ve suffered so long and so much and still do, you know!”  Show some BACKBONE!  If your little brat got his ass slapped around on the school yard, would you let him slap the bully around?  No!
So don’t tell me it’s okay to be prejudiced if one has been the victim of prejudice.  Doing so just makes you as scummy as the original bigot.
Rise, people, rise!  Stop slithering down to the the level of the ruling old white pigs!

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By Blueboy1938, July 20, 2009 at 1:12 pm Link to this comment

Actually, abdo, Judge Sotomayor did state that her “wise Latina” remark was a mistake.  She was just being practical in that demented attack upon her mounted by those sanctimonious ethnocentric senators.  Of course, she will still not get the votes of those who believe that remark to have been “racist.”  In my opinion, she should have just responded that, had it not been taken out of context, it would have been clear what she meant and just written off those questioners.

Since the Republican senators just repeated riffs on that one statement, it is clear to any rational person that was all they had on her.  Besides, who cares what the Republicans think, anyway?  She has the votes to be confirmed, and with Senator Al Franken now seated after that stupidly protracted recount fight, she even has the votes to squelch any filibuster attempt.  She will sail through with many Republican ayes in the floor vote!

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By John Hanks, July 18, 2009 at 8:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Since most of our laws are written to the advantage of crooks and corporations, I’m not too thrilled when she says the law comes first.  Obama is a trojan horse for the corporate state.  It only stands to reason that she might be one too.

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By Clar-z, July 18, 2009 at 3:21 am Link to this comment
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Well said Ms. Goodman. As a WAW (Wise American Woman) who is no longer on the south side of 50, I remember when I began to “wonder”, and I no longer do. I feel certain that Judge Sotomayor gets it and then some.

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By Paracelsus, July 17, 2009 at 9:44 am Link to this comment

Anybody care about prisoners in Illinois being fed poisonous diets?

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By abdo, July 17, 2009 at 6:49 am Link to this comment

i love Sotomayor, she did not flinch, cower or retract what she said before. She is not a bully she is a big strong women how is not intimidated by a bunch of old lairs ?!

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By SuGee, July 17, 2009 at 5:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

After 8 years of utter lawlessness from O’Georgie boy and his band of war criminals; it is actually quite hilarious that the racist attitude of the Repugnican’ts are still talking like they are the majority.

It’s too bad the we can’t just flush the toilet and get rid of these individuals.  The fact that O’Georgie boy(who is actually a serial killer) still hasn’t been investigated and our souls cleansed,still makes all of us look like the WAR CRIMINALS that we actually are. Unless, the Attorney General begins an investigation and ships O’Georgie boy and his Unka Dicky(at the very least) off to the Hague, we’ll never survive.

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By Paracelsus, July 16, 2009 at 8:59 pm Link to this comment

Soft Kill/Genocide in Illiois

Cruel and Unusual Punishment: Soy Diet for Illinois Prisoners     PDF     Print     E-mail

When Rod Blagojevich was elected governor of Illinois in 2002, he immediately made a change in the prison diets. Beginning in January 2003, inmates began receiving a diet largely based on processed soy protein, with very little meat. In most meals, small amounts of meat or meat by-products are mixed with 60-70 percent soy protein; fake soy cheese has replaced real cheese; and soy flour or soy protein is now added to most of the baked goods.

The governor’s justification for replacing nutritious meat and cheese with toxic soy protein was financial-to lower the enormous costs of running the Illinois Department of Corrections. However, the likely reason is payback for campaign contributions from Archer Daniels Midland, the main supplier of soy products to the Illinois prisons.
Suffering of Inmates

Early in 2007, the Weston A. Price Foundation began hearing from inmates who were suffering from a myriad of serious health problems due to the large amounts of soy in the diet. These prisoners had found us through the Soy Alert! section of our website. Complaints include chronic and painful constipation alternating with debilitating diarrhea, vomiting after eating, sharp pains in the digestive tract, especially after consuming soy, passing out, heart palpitations, rashes, acne, insomnia, panic attacks, insomnia, depression and symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as low body temperature (feeling cold all the time), brain fog, fatigue, weight gain, frequent infections and enlarged thyroid gland. Since soy contains anti-fertility compounds, many young prisoners may be unable to father children after their release.

The suffering of these men is intense and medical care is palliative at best. Many have had sections of their digestive tract removed, but all requests for a soy-free diet are denied. The men are told, “If you don’t like the food, don’t eat it.” That means that unless they can afford to purchase commissary food, they must eat the soy food or starve.

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By GoyToy, July 16, 2009 at 1:59 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Frankly, I wish she’d stood by the ‘wise Latina” remark. Also, I can’t stand Lindsey Graham or Jess Sessions-two good ole boys. To be honest, there are a whole lot of others in the Senate that I’d not care to have a beer with either.

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By katemcshane, July 16, 2009 at 1:50 pm Link to this comment

I watched only several hours of the hearings.  I am not a lawyer, so there were many points I didn’t understand. 

I like Sonya Sotomayor’s face.  Very much.  This sounds silly, I guess, but I enjoyed intensely the way she looked at these men when, in my opinion, they were acting like idiots.  It seemed to me that she is a brilliant woman (and I don’t use that adjective often) who has the patience of a saint and sometimes she endured their idiocy by sitting calmly within herself knowing they weren’t capable of any more intelligence than they had exhibited.  It was thrilling to see that.  Today she tried to explain to Jeff Sessions the concept of being interested in ideas and intellectual exploration, but, eventually, she had to tell him that she couldn’t say any more than she had, already. 

Now that GWB is gone, and the field is beginning to open up at least a little, the Republicans, by and large, seem like a dying breed.  Their thinking is usually concrete and limited.  They appear to have no sense of humor, let alone depth.  I see us (as in, evolving human beings) leaving them behind.  I know that Sotomayor seems (potentially) conservative.  I would like to see her in action, though, because I so enjoyed watching her stand up to these idiots.  I know she was raised with much love.  I see it in her demeanor and it is enviable.

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By felicity, July 16, 2009 at 11:13 am Link to this comment

My only hope is that Soto is not really the hohum bean-counter she’s presenting herself as before the committee. 

We need a Warren Court, a Court made up of feisty, hard-playing, fearless people who challenged the Constitution as it was designed to be challenged and had little or no reverance for precedence. There is little or no progress made by a Court that relies on precedence - let alone bad precedence - which, so far, seems to rule Soto’s judgement.

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By Rodger Lemonde, July 16, 2009 at 7:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The GOP inquisitors have only strikes these days, no…
So they strut their stuff hinting that all their faults would disqualify some one from the Supreme Court.

Report this
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