Ain’t No Supreme Court Justice Ever Called Me N***er
Could somebody please tell me what prize I get now that President Obama has nominated a minority for the Supreme Court? I ask because there has been a lot of talk about the importance of Sonia Sotomayor being a Hispanic woman — and, well, I’d just like to know what glorious prize minorities should expect in the mail.
I’m not a woman, and I’m not Latino. But I am black and I do have a person on the Court that “looks like me.” Yay! Unfortunately, my Clarence Thomas prize was a lightweight package of self-loathing and some very annoying soundbites about what I need, what don’t need, and what is bad for me and my “people.” I had to send that gift back.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not parroting the “best person” available rhetoric that is so often code for “white man we all like.” There are a number of people that are qualified for the High Court. White men have done pretty well for themselves when all else is equal, why not switch it up a bit if it is going to make people feel better?
But why does it make people of a disaffected class feel better when one of their own reaches a position of special prominence? Women were very happy when Sandra Day O’Connor reached the Court. Italian-Americans were psyched for Antonin Scalia. Thurgood Marshall was pretty cool. But the legacies of these justices has everything to do with their performance on the Court. Did Louis Brandeis make jurisprudence safe for Jewish people? Or was he just a very influential jurist that happened to be Jewish?
Let’s assume, for the sake of the argument, that Sotomayor is a liberal. You know, the kind of person that supports a robust, rights-based interpretation of the “living constitution” (except the Second Amendment, that one sucks). Can’t we also assume that such a jurist will have a fairly strong comprehension of the issues facing various classes of people other than his or her own?
Even the most rabidly conservative modern Justices believe in the basic equality of all people (I’m almost positive about this). Chief Justice John Roberts, for all of his supposed faults, never prevented me from getting a cab. He’s never helped me get a cab either, but he’s a lawyer, what do you expect? One assumes that the political fault lines between liberal and conservative lie in the ideology of achieving equality; it’s not about whether such equality exists.
There are legitimate disagreements between the two parties on issues of equality. Look at the New Hampshire firefighters case, Ricci v. DeStefano. Sure, it’s going to be an issue for Sotomayor during her confirmation, but at heart this is the kind of case the two parties should be fighting about. One group — I’ll call them “people who do well on tests” — believe that tests are awesome indicators of future success. Another group of people — let’s call them “people who do poorly on tests” — generally believe that tests are simply an indication of past performance. Conservatives might be “yay tests,” liberals might feel “there’s something more than a freakin’ test.”
Can some one please tell me how being Puerto Rican has anything to do with what you might think about this case? What, did she have a cousin once that didn’t score highly on a test and has been waiting for a chance to avenge the family disgrace? Or is there something native to the second X chromosome that is supposed to help you make that decision?
Identity politics should take a backseat to jurisprudential ideology. I would not sacrifice one iota of liberal bona fides for the correct mix of chromosomes and pigmentation. It doesn’t make me feel better to have a person that looks like me on the Court. It makes me feel better to have a person that can match wits with Scalia and Roberts for the next generation.
Of course, there are a number of people that are competent for the Court and have the intellectual chops to match up with the conservatives. If, all else being equal, Obama wants to pick a woman or a Latino, I don’t have any problem with that.
But I’m not going to fight for Sotomayor on those grounds. Put a liberal on the Supreme Court, and even a white man would have done just fine.