Daniel Larison disagrees with my earlier posts, concluding with my point about reversing Sotomayor’s comment: “I suppose it would be, but then the point here surely ought to be that the statement is not racist no matter which way you phrase it.” Okay, here is how a reversal of the statement would read: “I would hope that a wise white man with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina who hasn’t lived that life.” The title of the speech? A “White Judge’s Voice.” (Or maybe a “White Judge’s Burden.”)
I am willing to bet that most people would regard the above statement as racist. If criticizing Sotomayor means we don’t get white judges who talk like this, even really conservative ones appointed by Republican presidents, I’m not really sorry about that. Sotomayor’s case is obviously more nuanced — there actually is a Latin culture and identity of which she is a part and entitled to celebrate, while a white person talking about the richnes of his whiteness (as opposed to his Scottish, English, Italian or even Southern heritage) is living in a white nationalist fantasy world — but as the country grows more diverse, the concepts of particularly white, black, and brown colors of justices become even less desirable. Sotomayor does not have to be an actual separatist or anti-white racist to contribute to a style of judging where race looms larger in our country’s legal system.
Plenty of what’s in Sotomayor’s speech is innocuous, but not her repeated attempts to portray color-blind justice as impractical. The practical result of eliminating color-blind justice will not be that all Americans celebrate their rootedness in unique, decentralized communities instead of being deracinated, atomistic individuals. And in terms of political norms, refraining from criticizing Sotomayor will not keep conservatives from being called racist when they criticize immigration policy, racial preferences, or anything else that gets conservatives called racist. Has it worked like that anywhere in the real world where liberals talk like Sotomayor? I doubt it does at Berkley.
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