The first day of Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings was replete with opening statements from Republican Senators expressing their concerns about her 2001 “wise Latina” remark: “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.”
Conservative commentators have latched onto the statement, but Eugene Robinson’s op-ed in the Washington Post today unpacks what their objections imply.
Republicans' outrage, both real and feigned, at Sotomayor's musings about how her identity as a "wise Latina" might affect her judicial decisions is based on a flawed assumption: that whiteness and maleness are not themselves facets of a distinct identity. Being white and male is seen instead as a neutral condition, the natural order of things. Any "identity" -- black, brown, female, gay, whatever -- has to be judged against this supposedly "objective" standard.
Thus it is irrelevant if Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. talks about the impact of his background as the son of Italian immigrants on his rulings -- as he did at his confirmation hearings -- but unforgivable for Sotomayor to mention that her Puerto Rican family history might be relevant to her work.
It is highly likely that this “wise Latina” remark will be the focal point of questions Judge Sotomayor will face from some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.