Sotomayor supremely qualified

September 8, 2009 — by Vijay Menon

Sonia Sotomayor cruised into the Supreme Court by a 68-31 Senate vote this summer, but not without some notable and outspoken dissent from many prominent conservatives. Former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan summed up the general feeling of Sotomayor’s oppositon when he stated that she was not “qualified” for the Supreme Court, had not “shown great intellect” or any “depth of knowledge of the Constitution” and was simply an “affirmative action appointment.” 
    
This argument might have held some legitimacy had it not been for the irrefutable fact that Sotomayor is supremely qualified, perhaps even more so than any nominee in the past several years and has demonstrated an incredible work ethic over the course of her career that justifies her appointment.
    

It is not unfair to wonder what role race and gender had in the appointment of Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. While it is difficult to speculate the extent to which these factors affected the decision, one may reasonably conclude that they at least played a minor part and that they certainly were not a hindrance to her appointment as they have traditionally been in the past. However, it is of the utmost importance to acknowledge that Sotomayor was picked primarily, if not exclusively, on talent and merit. Had another candidate been clearly more qualified, they would have defeated Sotomayor for the appointment regardless of their race or gender.
   

Given these facts, one can refute Buchanan’s ridiculous assertion that Sotomayor was picked solely because she is a “Latina woman” and that the process has become inherently discriminatory against white males. Not only do such allegations serve to trivialize Sotomayor’s numerous achievements, but they are also false.
    

The suggestion that Sotomayor is unqualified for the job is simply ludicrous. Sotomayor, the first justice of Hispanic descent, attended Princeton and Yale for law school. She worked as a federal appellate judge for 17 years, served as a prosecutor and corporate attorney, and presided over 450 cases as a trial judge, more than any other current justices. As an example, compare Sotomayor’s judicial record at the time of her appointment to that of the current Chief Justice John Roberts. 
 
While Sotomayor had served as a judge of distinction for 17 years on the appellate court, Roberts had only served for a mere two years on the same court when he was appointed to replace William Rehnquist during the Bush administration. Contrary to Buchanan’s assertions, Sotomayor is well versed in Constitutional law and has the knowledge and experience to back it up.
    

Of course, much of the concern over Sotomayor’s appointment stems from her poorly worded statement that her experience as a “wise Latina woman” has made her a better judge than others. However, her statement has been misconstrued by those wanting to smear her as a “reverse racist.” In all fairness, Sotomayor did show indiscretion in her her imprecise choice of language that has justifiably caused some controversy. However, she has provided numerous clarifications regarding this statement, repeatedly stated that her words were misunderstood, and gracefully reiterated her viewpoint that “the task of a judge is not to make the law” but to “apply the law.”
   

Sotomayor would agree with Buchanan that she is not a superior judge simply by virtue of the fact that she is a Latina. The real point that Sotomayor intended to make with her “wise Latina” comment is that her “rich” experiences, many of which have been brought about because of her unique upbringing and heritage, have molded her into the judge that she is today. This is not an unfair claim to make.
   

However, the whole notion that Sotomayor will be a “racist” judge who favors minorities and discriminates against white males is absurd. Even if one disagrees with her statements regarding race, her record speaks for itself. In this case, Sotomayor’s actions speak louder than her words. Of the 96 cases involving race that Sotomayor has ruled on, she has found discrimination present in only 10 of them, nine of which were unanimous decisions. Sotomayor’s record clearly shows no persistent racial biases and there is absolutely no cause for concern that Sotomayor is a “reverse racist” as many like Buchanan would have you believe.
   

Rather than denigrating Sotomayor’s appointment, Buchanan and other opponents should be celebrating a milestone in her appointment. In a country that prides itself on diversity, it is difficult to believe that of 110 previous Supreme Court justices, 106 have been white males.  Sotomayor’s selection now indicates that the door is finally wide open for all candidates to get a fair shake regardless of their race or gender.


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