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Jul. 13 2009 - 2:44 pm | 14 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Sotomayor: why can’t we just admit diversity is a good thing?


Judge Sotomayor is sworn in during her confirmation hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee today (Alex Wong/Getty)

As Washington gears up for its standard three ring circus that is a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, there is one subject that will no doubt come up, but will also, no doubt, be tip-toed around in the name of PC politics: is Sotomayor going to rule on issues differently because she is a woman, and a Latina woman?

The most cutting edge research suggests that she will indeed operate differently on both of those things, but that that fact may well be a good thing. In the Washington Post this weekend we wrote an op-ed about much of this research, that suggests, among other things, that having more women in the senior ranks of corporations is good for profits, and the economy. Precisely because women bring something different to the table–a different perspective and a different management style. We tend to build consensus instead of competing, and tend toward caution, instead of risk.  But there is one bit of research that I find particularly compelling. An economist at the University of Michigan has come up with a mathematical model, something he calls a diversity theorem. He’s used it to study corporate decision making, and especially complicated corporate decision making. What he’s found is that the diverse group, when given a tough decision to make, always reaches a better conclusion. Even if the homogeneous group happens to be “better qualified,” the diverse group makes a better judgment.

That got me thinking about the mix on the Supreme Court. Can we extrapolate? Isn’t it therefore arguable that diversity will benefit that group as well? Moreover, won’t the different management and judicial style that Sotomayor might bring also be helpful in moving decisions along toward more broadly-supported rulings?

It struck me as odd, during uproar about wise Latina comments, (which were overstated on her part, I admit,) that suddenly we all had to retreat to the standard notion that good judges do everything in exactly the same way. Of course that is nonsense. But maybe politics just isn’t ready yet for the revolutionary thought that differences exist–and, in fact, can be beneficial?


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    There was a pretty good article on the Faculty Lounge arguing that Justice Ginsburg helped change some minds on the teenage “strip search for Advil” case, merely by pointing out to the male justices that being stripped to your underwear might come across differently for a young girl rather than a young boy.


    I think that the diversity door swings both ways. The NAACP has historically been a more effective organization when it is inclusive of whites and Jews than when it looks only to black community for talent and ideas.

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    Diversity is good but the word I cant overlook is better than! If she had simply said my life exper will help me but to say a better conclusion than a white man? If a white justice said that he would have a better conclusion than a latina woman he would be gone. Obama questioned ideology when on the Seante of a justice so why cant the rep because she is a woman. ? Thats not fair!

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    If she said it once thats an oops but 5 times thats how she feels!

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Claire's the one in red, Katty's in grey. We're both reporters--Katty for BBC, Claire for Good Morning America. Writing Womenomics (a New York Times best-seller!) is one of the best things that we've ever done. It was a labor of....complete passion. Who wouldn't love the subject--it's our lives. But we learned so much along the way--about our power--and about how other women pull it off. And we had a blast working together--even though we were warned that teaming up might destroy our friendship. Ha! I think our husbands worried we might run off together.

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