I’ve been reading the discussion of Sonia Sotomayor’s
nomination to be a justice of the Supreme court with more interest
than I sometimes read such things. She’s roughly my age, and it
still surprises me when people who seem that much like me get be
judges and presidents.
I thought I’d point you at two of the more interesting articles
I’ve run into.
Slate Magazine has an article called The Invitation You Can’t Refuse —
Why Sonia Sotomayor was talking about race in the first place.
It’s written by a latina lawyer, who makes the point:
Imagine Chief Justice John Roberts being invited by members of his own cultural network to deliver remarks for the Honorable William H. Rehnquist Law & Cultural Diversity Memorial Lecture on what special qualities white men bring to the bench: “What makes your approach, as a white male, different from that of your black judicial colleagues?” “Does being a white man give you special insight into the perspective of white male defendants in discrimination cases?” “Has the presence of white men on the bench made any difference in American law?” Odds are he wouldn’t last two minutes before treading on someone’s sensibilities. But this political high-wire act is expected from minority figures as a matter of course.
This morning’s New York Times has an article comparing the
biographies of Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas called For
Sotomayor and Thomas, Paths Diverge at Race.
Among the striking paralels drawn between these lives are that
when they arrived in college, both felt that they didn’t speak
English as well as they wanted to:
Ms. Sotomayor had grown up in the Bronx speaking Spanish; Mr. Thomasâ€™s relatives in Pin Point, Ga., mixed English with Gullah, a language of the coastal South. Both attended Catholic school, where they were drilled by nuns in grammar and other subjects. But at college, they realized they still sounded unpolished.
Ms. Sotomayor shut herself in her dorm room and eventually resorted to grade-school grammar textbooks to relearn her syntax. Mr. Thomas barely spoke, he said later, and majored in English literature to conquer the language.
â€œI just worked at it,â€ he said in an interview years later, â€œon my
pronunciations, sounding out words.â€
Another similarity was what happened when they were interviewed
for jobs after graduation from law school:
Mr. Thomas and Ms. Sotomayor did have one experience in common: law firm interviewers asked them if they really deserved their slots at Yale, implying that they might not have been accepted if they were white.
Ms. Sotomayor fought back so intensely â€” against a Washington firm, now merged with another â€” that she surprised even some of the schoolâ€™s Hispanics. She filed a complaint with a faculty-student panel, which rejected the firmâ€™s initial letter of apology and asked for a stronger one. Minority and womenâ€™s groups covered campus with fliers supporting her. Ms. Sotomayor eventually dropped her complaint, but the firm had already suffered a blow to its reputation.
Mr. Thomas was more private about the experience â€” even some friends do not recall it â€” but he took it hard. With rejection letters piling up, he feared he would not be able to support his wife and young son.
The problem, Mr. Thomas concluded, was affirmative action. Whites would not hire him, he concluded, because no one believed he had attended Yale on his own merits. He felt acute betrayal: his education was supposed to put him on equal footing, but he was not offered the jobs that his white classmates were getting. He saved the pile of rejection letters, he said in a speech years later.
â€œIt was futile for me to suppose that I could escape the stigmatizing
effects of racial preference,â€ he wrote in his autobiography.
I certainly hope they get the confirmation process over in time
so that it doesn’t interfere with fixing health care and the
economy, but meanwhile, it’s producing some interesting writing.