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Supreme Court Pick Brings Back Affirmative Action Debate

“Affirmative action standards are a bad way to pick one of the nine most influential jurists in the US."

Such is the reaction of affirmative-action opponent Richard Epstein to President Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. Epstein and other critics believe that the president wants to chose "a daughter of Puerto Rican parents raised in Bronx public housing projects to become the nation's first Hispanic justice," instead of an accomplished jurist. What they seem to forget is that Sotomayor has more experience on the bench than any nominee in the last 100 years, was a criminal prosecutor, and graduated with honors from Princeton and Yale.

Sotomayor herself doesn't seem blind to her ethnicity. She's (now infamously) quoted as saying: "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 this quote, Sotomayor invokes an argument for affirmative action: diversity is desirable.

The Obama administration has neutralized the affirmative action meme by being clear about one thing: Sotomayor's impressive accomplishments and exceptional legal mind were a prerequisite for her nomination. Her background is just a bonus.

The assumption that affirmative action gives minorities an "unfair" advantage often means they need to work twice as hard to earn respect. Do you think the solution is getting rid of affirmative action, or trying to change people's attitudes?


Join The Conversation
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
I think if Obama picked a white male, people would focus just as much, if not more on race and gender. As Symphonee stated, it's a lose-lose situation. However, all recent Supreme Court nominees have been thoroughly vetted in public and in confirmation hearings; it's not something people have against Obama. I think the focus on the quote isn't focusing on her race or gender; it's focusing on the fact that she seems to think that experiences should guide judicial decisions, when a lot of people think the Constitution and precedent should guide judicial decisions.
tomatoshirt tomatoshirt 8 years
If she was a white male, I think people would focus more on his resume. And the media/opposes would try to dig the person's dirt. So there is no win-win situation.
0danielle0 0danielle0 8 years
It AMAZES me how quick to bring up race some people are. She sounds pretty dang qualified to me. Let's stop focusing on race, gender, etc., and get someone in the court who is going to fight to preserve our rights! :)
Symphonee Symphonee 8 years
I have to agree with pioneers. People keep harping on her race and rarely quote anything about her rulings. She is qualified. She just happens to be Latina.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
I don't see how it could be taken as offering a different view, when she clearly uses the word better, not different.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
And I wish there was an edit button, as well!
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
Honey, if you meant it as a general comment, why did you direct it toward Mich?
HoneyBrown1976 HoneyBrown1976 8 years
Damn, I wish there was an edit button to add. Michelann, the funny thing is that I didn't take her comment in the way that you did, which goes to show the need for different perspectives in this society, instead of the Eurocentric-normative view. I, along with many others, took it as offering a different view on legal matters.
HoneyBrown1976 HoneyBrown1976 8 years
lilkimbo, I know what Mich was referring to. I simply stated that generally that white women benefit the most from Affirmative Action in reference to the topic of the post.
Michelann Michelann 8 years
Sloane, Honey asked me if I honestly thought that white males did not use their race and gender in their decisions, and I responded that I wouldn't find that acceptable either. So how is that not "other people doing her bad behavior"? Perhaps you find it acceptable for a person of one ethnicity/gender to act a certain way, but unacceptable for a person of another ethnicity/gender to do the very same thing. But I think that sort of double standard is racial prejudice.
telewyo telewyo 8 years
The fact is that her resume would still be impressive and qualify her for the job if you saw it on paper without any knowledge of her gender, race or background. That's all that matters. No one is perfect and says the right things all the time...even supreme court justices. Samuel Alito protested the increasing number of women that Princeton was admitting just before she went there. I find that far more appalling than her comment...
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
I mean, look at the differences in how Kennedy and Scalia grew up. Events in Scalia's life have more closely mirrored Sotomayor's than Kennedy's. He is also a first generation American (on his father's side, at least). He grew up in a working class family in New York, as well. Kennedy, on the other hand, grew up with wealthy parents in California.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
I think the quote would be less troubling if she were to say that a Latina would decide differently than a white male, rather than a Latina would reach a better conclusion. I also think it's a little offensive because it implies that white males don't have varied experiences.
sloane220 sloane220 8 years
@ pioneers-thank you. @michelann- it's not other people "doing her bad behavior" it's white males using their white privilege and male privilege to disenfranchise those who are not white and male in the justice system. a woman of color is not going to have a system of oppresion reinforcing her behavior they way a white male would. the unfairness of the american justice system contributes to the consistent systematic racism and sexism in this country, so honestly, if there were more diversity, which i think what sotomayor's quote suggests there needs to be, it would bring about a change and probably more equity for all americans.
sloane220 sloane220 8 years
emososays-maybe you did but you didn't know it, because according to the department of labor statistically white women benefit from affirmative action more then any other minority group. white men used a program created to help ALL minorities to benefit THEIR best interests by promoting the group closest to them to fulfill their affirmative action requirements for institutions. see how systematic racism seeps into everything? affirmative action is overly racialized, it should be called "affirmative action for white women, and to a limited degree every other minority group." so everyone who thinks this about affirmative action when the woman is clearly qualified and has more experience than anyone appointed to the supreme court in the past 100 years, is really being an ass. @lilkimbo-just exactly why would you even "guess" that obama gave extra points to anybody? you don't know that. its that constant assumption that because someone in a minority group got to a certain position that they must have used some form of affirmative action to get there instead of their qualifications, that leads people to question a minority person's intellect and work. which i don't understand because isn't the point of affirmative action to look at qualified individuals outside of the white male job pool? so is it just another way of legitimizing racist questioning and discrimination towards a minority for no reason other than the color of their skin. did anybody say that hillary clinton got her position through affirmative action? if i got a position due to affirmative action i really wouldn't have a problem with it, because affirmative action mainly requires that white males who run these institutions give QUALIFIED minorities an OPPORTUNITY. and trust me we still need it. racism isn't over and neither is sexism, and that reflects in the economic disparity between white males and everybody else
Michelann Michelann 8 years
" Michaelann, get over it. Are you honestly saying that no white males ever used their status in judging? Really? If anything, white women are the top benefactors of Affirmative Action. So, enjoy it. " First of all, it's not acceptable to say "Well other people also do her bad behavior, so I'll excuse her". It would be wrong if a white male "used their status in judging" and it would be wrong if Sotomayor did it. I don't give passes (or "get over" things, as you so politely put it) just because people are minorities. Secondly, I said absolutely nothing about Affirmative Action, so I'm not sure where the second part of your comment came from.
pioneers pioneers 8 years
I think, if anything, immediately assuming that race has something to do with the appointment or hiring of a non-Caucasian person is a bit racist. It instantly dismisses any credibility, experience, or qualifications the person has and implies that the person in question needs some kind of crutch. I mean, she's got 17 years of federal experience. She shows not only a depth of constitutional understanding but a wide range of opinions (in that she does not always stick to one side of the aisle politically). She has consistently stressed the limits of judiciary power, something that conservatives embrace. That's enough for me.
emososays17 emososays17 8 years
"If anything, white women are the top benefactors of Affirmative Action. " really?! I have never once benefited from affirmative action but wouldn't it be nice if people didn't get spots in the nursing program I applied to because of their race and background and not their grades.
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 8 years
I have reservation about her infamous quote, too. It has a racist bent to it. She has some explaining to do. I hope she will address her quote during her confirmation hearing.
lilkimbo lilkimbo 8 years
Honeybrown, Mich didn't comment on whether or not white women benefit from Affirmative Action. She said that the quote troubles her.
snowysakurasky snowysakurasky 8 years
i think getting rid of affirmative action could be good...if things went horribly they could always bring it back. "The assumption that affirmative action gives minorities an "unfair" advantage" is the main reason I feel that way." There are two problems: one, the assumption undoubtedly provokes some resentment (not by all, but undoubtedly by some,) thus creating a less harmonious workplace. Also, it is difficult to reason with people that the resentment is completely unjustified. Sometimes it really could be an unfair advantage if the *for example* african american woman hired with the same qualifications as the white guy passed over actually had more affluent parents and went to better elementary/secondary schools. If affirmative action was for people of a less affluent background regardless of color or gender, that would be more fair, imo.
HoneyBrown1976 HoneyBrown1976 8 years
Michaelann, get over it. Are you honestly saying that no white males ever used their status in judging? Really? If anything, white women are the top benefactors of Affirmative Action. So, enjoy it.
kythera kythera 8 years
Ok, yeah, I can also understand the "Dems getting a Latina in there so that it looks good for the next elections" thing, but my original point was that she had to at least be qualified enough to take on this position. I'm sure the short list had some minorities, it's only the 2000's. It's time we get away from the stereotype that a minority whom also happens to have a vagina can't be qualified enough to be a Judge or whatever.
Michelann Michelann 8 years
I do believe Obama's choice was motivated by both ethnicity and gender, but that doesn't necessarily make her unqualified or a bad choice. She has plenty of experience, but that quote alone is enough to make me question her ability to be adequately judicious.
kythera kythera 8 years
Good Grief, her experience is ENOUGH to put her in there. I'm your typical caucasian chick, and I have no problem with her. I don't even care if it's a woman, as long as they worked long and hard to be respected and become the next Supreme Court Justice, then why the heck not?! Once again, it's not fair to the mostly white male demographic. That, is sad.
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