Commentary: Sotomayor will join SCOTUS despite efforts of Limbaugh and friends

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramJune 1, 2009 

Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Yes, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Get used to saying that title and name together, because President Barack Obama's first nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court will be confirmed, and there's nothing that her resentful critics or the president's bitter enemies can do to stop it.

The voices of dissent over this nomination have been heating up the airwaves and cable networks with their petty accusations to try to dishonor this woman of distinction in hopes of bullying some conservative senators into voting against her.

Their most recent charge was instigated by the newly crowned leader of the Republican Party, radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, who is an unrepentant Obama hater. Limbaugh's minions have taken up his lame talking point that Sotomayor (and the president, for that matter) is a racist.

They stake that claim on the fact that Sotomayor served on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund and is a member of the National Council of La Raza, the largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy group in the country, established to improve opportunities for Latinos.

One commentator even noted that La Raza literally means "The Race" and, therefore, anyone who is a member of a group with such a name is by definition a "racist." Of course, la raza is more correctly translated as "the people."

But let's not quibble with definitions or the truth when there's a movement on to destroy the reputation and character of one whose achievements and experiences are so overwhelmingly positive, and indeed heroic.

Oh, there is that line from a speech she gave at the University of California, Berkley, in which she played off an idea expressed by the two other women who have served on the high court that, when deciding cases, a wise old man and a wise old woman would probably make the same decision.

Sotomayor remarked, "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."

Heavens, that most definitely has to be racist, right?

Please. If that's all her detractors have, they should wave their white flags now and surrender.

I can think of many words to describe Sotomayor – distinguished scholar, excellent lawyer, "fearless prosecutor," a fair and reasoned judge, to name a few – but racist is not one of them.

Before this latest charge – and even before the president named a nominee – the conservative agitators had decided that Obama's citing "empathy" as a criterion was a bone-headed idea and an affront to the Constitution itself.

They charged that anyone who exhibited the very definition of empathy ("ability to share in another’s emotions, thoughts or feelings") would bring an unacceptable bias to the highest court in the land.

A judge who feels? Well, we can't have that.

Believe me, I'll take a feeling jurist any day over one who is void of emotion and has no room for compassion.

The conservatives say they want a Supreme Court justice who will bring none of his or her cultural and life experiences to the job.

They want one who will strictly interpret the Constitution as it was meant to be, and they are the only ones who know how it was meant to be interpreted.

What they are really saying is they want a justice with guts, but no heart; with sight, but no vision; with brains, but no mind.

Sotomayor, who was first nominated to the federal bench by Republican George H.W. Bush, has been confirmed twice by the Senate, the second time when she was appointed to the Federal Court of Appeals by Democrat Bill Clinton.

Obama, in nominating her, declared that a rigorous intellect, mastery of the law and ability to approach decisions without a particular ideology or agenda – a commitment to impartial justice – were qualities that a justice must have, but they were not the only criteria.

"For as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, 'The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience,' " Obama said. "Experience being tested by obstacles and barriers, by hardship and misfortune; experience insisting, persisting and ultimately overcoming those barriers. It is experience that can give a person a common touch and a sense of compassion; an understanding of how the world works and how ordinary people live."

The president continued, "Walking in the door she would bring more experience on the bench, and more varied experience on the bench, than anyone currently serving on the United States Supreme Court had when they were appointed."

All of those qualities, which are part of this exceptional nominee's makeup, will assure that she will be a justice of the Supreme Court

Her gender and ethnicity, which bring needed diversity to the august body, are simply bonuses.

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