05 February 2013

Sotomayor Sabiduría -- Weighing the Wisdom of the "Wise Latina"

In May 2009, President Barack Obama named Sonia Sotomayor as his choice to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court.  One bump on her way to achieving a 68-31 Confirmation vote by the Senate was dealing with a ““Wise Latina”” line that Sotomayor had been dropping into public speeches between 1994 and 2003.  Sotomayor clarified during the hearings to a sympathetic Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) that “[w]hile life experience shapes who one is, "ultimately and completely" a judge follows the law regardless of personal background.

That statement seems somewhat ironic as Vice President Joe Biden’s official swearing in ceremony on January 20th 2012 was moved from Noon as is directed in the US Constitution to 8:15 a.m. so that Associate Justice Sotomayor could maintain her other obligation, a book signing appearance in Manhattan that afternoon for her autobiography “My Beloved World” (“Mi mundo adorado”).

Justice Sonia Sotomayor swearing in Vice President Joe Biden, January 20, 2013 8:15 a.m.

Other sitting Supreme Court Justices have published best-selling books while sitting on the Nation’s High Court, as Associate Justice Clarence Thomas had in 2007  with his memoirs “My Grandfather’s Son”.  But these extracurricular activities should not impede on the duties which accompany the public office which one has been entrusted.  It seems troubling to rearrange constitutionally  set schedules to accommodate a personal P.R. appearance.

As part of her publicity tour for "My Beloved World", Sotomayor has been granting interviews with the Lamestream Media and they have recriprocated by writing puff pieces which promote her hardscrapple memoirs of the self described “Nuyorican”, as well as touting how down to earth and accessible Sotomator is.  To shatter the cloistered status quo for sitting SCOTUS Justices, Sotomayor's charm offensive included dancing some salsa with  Univision’s Jorge Ramos in her Supreme Court chambers.

It was fascinating to find the supposed newspaper of record, the New York Times, fawn over Sotomayor with the cyber headline “Book Tour Rock Star Sotomayor Seeks An Even Higher Calling.”  The caption for the Old Grey Lady’s video attached to the Sotomayor article is titled “The Sonia Show”.  One revelation from the piece was Associate Justice Sotomayor’s raison d’etre:

 “It is my great hope that I’ll be a great justice, and that I’ll write opinions that will last the ages. But that doesn’t always happen. More importantly, it’s only one measure of meaning in life. To me, the more important one is my values and my impact on people who feel inspired in any way by me....Serving as a role model is the most valuable thing I can do.”

This is an odd admission for one of nine people who determine the law of the land.  In her four terms on the court, one can find noted Sotomayor dissents and a couple of concurring opinions but not majority opinions.  Of course that may be attributed to her lack of seniority or not having a domineering Liberal majority on the High Court.

Assoc. Justice Bader Ginsburg
All of that being said, it is shocking that Sotomayor seems content to have the “Wise Latina” choice be her legacy.  While a conservative may be ideologically opposed to the Liberal Jurisprudence of Thurgood Marshall on the bench, he was not defined by being the first Black Supreme Court Justice, as Marshall was the NAACP lead lawyer for Brown v. Board of Education (1954).   Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg may have Liberal leanings during her tenure on the Supreme Court, but as ACLU Lead Counsel and Columbia Law professor she authored the first case book on sexual discrimination law.   These credentials seem to bring more distinction and resonance than being a celebrity Latina role model.

It is questionable wisdom and a break from precedent for a Supreme Court Justice to cultivate a celebrity appeal and consider being a role model the most valuable thing that she can do, especially when her nomination seemed like motivated by her Hispanic background .  It seems to be a shortcoming of society to exalt externalities and celebrates celebrity on the High Court rather than honoring  jurisprudential achievement and legal insight.  It just does not seem very wise thing to do.

h/t: William Warren

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