Sunday Nights on the Lam: Sotomayoriffic Edition

I know. I know. It’s been a while. More than a while. But it’s still a Sunday night, and dammit, this is my right.

And what better time to resume writing a snarky column when the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court has given me so very much to snark at? Of course, I’m not referring to the honorable judge herself, but rather to the incredible reactions her nomination has provoked from what remains of the right. To be sure, there are plenty of perfectly reasonable conservatives – including, mercifully, most of those who have any real say in the matter – who understand that fighting the Sotomayor nomination is, at the very least, a bad move from a pragmatic perspective. But there’s also a considerable number of conservatives who seem to believe that confirming Sotomayor would somehow undermine the, um, firm tradition for respecting the rule of law that the Bush administration always observed impeccably.

Let’s start with the most serious. As most of us know by now, Sotomayor gave a speech at a 2001 conference on “law and cultural diversity” that is probably her biggest liability. I do encourage you to read the full transcript, which I’ve linked – context works wonders! – but the killer quote is this one:

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases…. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow [sic] has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I 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.

As you can probably imagine, that last line was the kicker for an awful lot of people who are worried about reverse discrimination and the like. So there’s been a good deal of backlash on this issue. Most critics are singing variations on the theme of “Sotomayor will inject her personal opinions into her judging, making her a judicial activist.” Ignoring for the moment that personal bias and judicial activism are somewhat distinct issues, I’ll leave it to much more punctual commentators to take out this particular claim. My personal favorite riposte comes from Michelle Cottle, who hits the nail on the head with regards to this “perspective” thing:

Not to state the obvious, but an upper-middle class white guy reared in the suburbs is shaped by his experiences, carries certain assumptions, and views the world through a particular prism as much as a working-glass Puerto Rican gal from the Bronx, or, for that matter, the half-black son of a single mom raised in Hawaii.

Or, to put it a little more angrily: White folks, you have a race, too. Men have a gender, too. Straight people have a sexuality, too. It’s absolutely true that we tend to treat all of those conditions as defaults (when’s the last time you thought of an acquaintance as “the straight white guy”?), but that doesn’t mean that they’re more natural – it means that most of us have grown up in a society that puts those conditions in a privileged and relatively invisible position. Samuel Alito’s life experiences affect his decision making, too – in fact, he’s said so. And I certainly don’t think his life experiences are inherently less (or more) valuable than Sotomayor’s – but given that the Court’s current White Dude Ratio is an impressive 78%, I can’t help but think that a little added diversity in perspective would really hurt.

But my favorite criticisms of Sotomayor are the ones that don’t really deserve a response beyond a scoff. (If there were an emoticon for the scoff, I would be all over that. Any designers in the house?) A few days ago, Jo Becker and Adam Liptak came out with this article in the New York Times, basically worrying that Sotomayor’s “sharp-tongued and occasionally combative manner” might poison the atmosphere of the Court (if you like lawyers) or make attorneys feel bad (if you don’t). This particular iteration of the “sharp tongue” argument has drawn criticism on its own merits. (Is it a problem that Antonin Scalia is well known to be at least as blunt?) But far more amusing – and gut-wrenching – are the comments of Mr. G. Gordon Liddy, Watergate mastermind:

Let’s hope that the key conferences aren’t when she’s menstruating or something, or just before she’s going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then.

Reminds me of an old American Voices feature from The Onion: “A woman president? What if she menstruates all over some important legislation?”

Perhaps the most popular Crazy Attack relies on race, rather than gender. In the Harmless Crazies section, Mark Krikorian says that we shouldn’t pronounce the nominee’s name “SotomayOR,” because it’s “unnatural in English” and “something we shouldn’t be giving in to.” (Incidentally, while we’re talking about language, have you ever seen a writer go so far to end a sentence with a preposition? And who still says “it sticks in my craw”?) Somewhat more offensively, Tom “Blame the Immigrants” Tancredo says:

I’m telling you she appears to be a racist. She said things that are racist in any other context. That’s exactly how we would portray it and there’s no one who would get on the Supreme Court saying a thing like that except for a Hispanic woman and you’re going to say it doesn’t matter!

Then he goes even crazier, confusing mottos with logos, National Council of La Raza with Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, MEChA of the 1960s with MEChA of today, and all of those organizations with a “Latino KKK.” Rush Limbaugh appears to think, if you can call it that, along the same lines as Tancredo, comparing Sotomayor to David Duke. And finally, Newt Gingrich, who is apparently now using Twitter (but not bothering to proofread), puts it out there in under 140 characters:

White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.

So there you have it, folks. Having a race makes you racist, La Raza is actually a modern-day KKK, and there ought to be a law against women doing anything while menstruating. I’m not sure how to follow that, so I’m just going to leave you with “The Shot” – you absolutely should have seen this already, but if you didn’t, it’s from Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, and it is incredible, even though Cleveland lost the series. This is long overdue, but it is now in DemApples memory, and I have done my job.