By Wendell P. Simpson
For the Chris Murray Report
I have to wonder when the truth stops being subordinate to politics.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation to the Supreme Court should have been a cakewalk, but it wasn’t. That’s because (surprise) conservative Republican members of the Senate selection committee had some misgivings about Sotomayor’s ability to adjudicate based on the law and not on her personal, subjective views (read ‘liberal bias’).
Let’s ignore, for a second, the utter absurdity of Republicans castigating anyone else for having a biased agenda, or the fact that there was no basis in the record of her decisions that justified their enmity. The inquisitors based their concerns mostly on a 2001 statement the esteemed jurist made that suggested a wise Hispanic woman’s experiences might enable her to make better jurisprudential decisions in some cases than a white man.
I guess that left the congress of poor, disadvantaged white men feeling a little marginalized, and Sotomayor was oh-so-delicately denounced as a reverse racist and an activist jurist.
The Republicans, in trying to censure Sotomayor, took the kindler and gentler approach. They knew they had to walk on eggshells—they certainly didn’t want to further distance a Hispanic constituency that had already flagged them for Obama.
But Sotomayor hedged anyway, cautiously distancing herself from the remark, calling it a “rhetorical flourish”.
Now we all know that people of color are always forced to make concessions to the truth, but that was one sister Sotomayor did not have to make, because here’s the pragmatic truth: in an America that’s 30 % non-white, 35% non-Christian, 6% gay, and 54% female, there are a whole lot of ‘truths’, and a whole lot of experiences white men aren’t going to know a whole lot about.
Sotomayor knows something about those perilous, uneasy corners of America that don’t show up in travel brochures, tourists’ maps or real estate brokers’ handbooks. She’s experienced an America where there are no manicured lawns, no three-car garages, no Rotary Club, no champagne liberals, no country club, Polo shirt-wearing scion of social privilege wiling away their off-hours on the golf course, and no soccer moms in sparkling new hybrid mini-vans transporting their brood to and from the neighborhood’s state-of-art recreation center.
She knows something about the jungle, all concrete, broken glass and instinct, where mother wit is often the only line of protection between you and an inglorious demise; where poor Puerto Rican, Dominican and African-American mothers are forced to make something out of nothing; where a bag of rice, a satchel of beans, a half pound of day old ground beef and a box of Hamburger Helper become a family’s feast; where everyday, women of color fend off poverty’s disrepair with a screwdriver, a wrench and a ‘don’t-f*ck-with-me’ attitude and mend the egregious harm visited by an indifferent world with a box of Band-Aids, a mother’s kiss and a prayer.
She knows that her man is often the last one hired and the first one fired, or denied promotion because of the color of his skin, and that the only thing standing between succor and an explosion of long-repressed rage is her tender touch and her knowing, understanding, tempering whisper.
She’s heard the awful wail of sirens announcing to the neighborhood that one of its own has fallen by violence or drugs or police brutality; she knows that a job—any job—is the difference between survival one week and homelessness the next; she knows that for far too many people, there no bootstraps, only tenacity and determination. She knows all of the things that Clarence Thomas has either forgotten or chosen to run away from.
But more importantly, she knows that justice sometimes turns, one way of the other, on an accent, a name, gender, or belief in an ‘alien’, unpopular religion. She knows that Obama’s remarkable ascension has not spelled the end of discrimination or inequality, and she knows, in her gut, in her heart and in her mind, that the law isn’t inflexible, intransigent or inexorable, but moved by the zeitgeist, the popular whim, and the jurisprudence of sages with the courage and the wisdom to do the right thing.
That’s why we’ve seen in our history Supreme Court decisions as varied and polar opposite as Dred Scott v. Sanford and Brown v. Board of Education.
There was no reason for Sotomayor to be remotely apologetic about the truth as she sees it, because, in the end, justice is about empathy—and a wise Hispanic woman who knows all those things will be able to deliver lawful and just respite to those who occupy the forgotten places where less astute white men, for far too long, have dared not tread—or even bothered to notice.
Dios bendiga al pueblo y Dios bendiga hermana Sonia Sotomayor!