Awareness | Posted by Becka W on 07/16/2009

Sonia Sotomayor

Alright. Let’s get right down to it.

Sonia Sotomayor. A name which only a few months ago probably would have meant nothing to us unless we were real judiciary junkies is now at the center of a hot button issue: Who will be our next Supreme Court Justice? While the Senate is spending hours upon hours questioning Sotomayor, let’s take a moment to dig a little deeper on the subject of her nomination.

(semi-rant alert): First and foremost, the biggest thing that has astonished me in my discussions with people is how quickly everyone forgets that women have barely made any headway on the Supreme Court. Sure, Sandra Day O’Connor was the first female justice; confirmed in 1980 and retired in 2006; and sure, Ruth Bader Ginsberg followed not far behind her in 1993.

Ginsburg and OConnor

Ginsburg and O'Connor

 But 2 women is not exactly the definition of achieving critical mass; or even real headway in terms of appointing women to the Supreme Court. Ginsberg and O’Connor are the only two female justices ever to serve on the highest court in our nation, out of 110 total justices that have served on the court. That means that, so far, women have only made up 1.8% of total Supreme Court Justices.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s explore not just the situation of women on the Supreme Court, but the potential of Sotomayor on the Supreme Court. If appointed, she will be the first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court – pretty fabulous, no? Regardless of whether or not you agree with her past decisions or the politics of the man who appointed her, you have to admit that’s an impressive accomplishment. Sotomayor said that she believes she is a “product of affirmative action”, meaning she believes that she would not have been accepted to Princeton and Yale were she a white man – noting that, at the times she was applying to school, everyone was looking to include more women in their student bodies.


Current U.S. Supreme Court - David Souter, farthest to the right, is the judge who retired to open up a seat on the court for Sotomayor

Current U.S. Supreme Court - David Souter, farthest to the right, is the judge who retired to open up a seat on the court for Sotomayor


But Sotomayor’s most controversial comment, perhaps, came when she said that she 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.” Some conservatives have called this comment “racist,” but I don’t know if that’s necessarily true.

Is it racist, or sexist to use your own gender and experiences to help you make decisions? I know that (on a much smaller scale), I consider the fact that I’m a young woman with no upper body strength (admittedly my own fault) and dressed fairly nicely before walking home alone at 2:00 in the morning, and instead decide to wait the extra 5 minutes for the bus. Now, that decision is certainly not of national importance – but it’s still a decision I made based on my own gender and experiences.

So what’s wrong with injecting a small amount of that into decisions of national importance? Who knows, maybe a different perspective, a fresh way of looking at the world, will advance us as a society. And another woman on the Supreme Court will take much of the pressure of being the only woman on the court off of Ruth Bader Ginsberg  – soon after having surgery for cancer, she came to President Obama’s State of the Union Address – because, she said, she felt she had to – to “remind America there was another woman on the court.”

Diversity on our Supreme Court should be applauded, not lauded. As long as Sotomayor is not making judgments based solely off of her personal experience and sentiments – which she has shown through her record won’t happen – I can see nothing wrong with allowing diversity on the court a Latina justice would help start to make the court a little more representative of our nation as a whole – we are not just a nation of just one race or gender. America prides itself so often on being a “melting pot” – so why aren’t we letting things melt just a little bit more? Who knows – perhaps, if we let our melting pot simmer, we could come up with some great, fresh ideas we didn’t even know were possible before.

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