The confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor begin today in the Senate. The politics will be intense, as Republicans attempt to attack Sotomayor without appearing to be racist and thus anger Latinos. Much noise is going to be made about “identity politics“, especially Sotomayor’s comment in 2001:
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.
Republicans will say that they want a justice who follows the “rule of law”, not one who uses her “life experiences”. But they are being hypocritical. The decision of Sotomayor’s that Republicans protest the most, “Ricci v. DeStefano” is a clear case where Sotomayor stuck to the “rule of law”, but conservatives are upset because she was not an activist judge! And furthermore, Republicans didn’t object when Samuel Alito talked about how his life experiences would affect him as a Supreme Court Justice.
Electoral Vote has an excellent article about how statements that Supreme Court Justices should merely follow the “rule of law” — interpreting the constitution like a robot — are silly. Their example is the recent case of Savana Redding, the 13-year-old girl who was strip searched at school because a classmate accused her of having an ibuprofen pill. Was this search constitutional? The fourth amendment says:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated …
But unfortunately, it doesn’t define what is “unreasonable”. That’s where life experiences come in!
So when a Senator asks Sotomayor whether she is going to stick to the “rule of law” and merely interpret the constitution, you will know that this is just political grandstanding.