(HOST) Commentator Madeleine Kunin has been thinking about ethnic and gender identity, and how it may – or may not – influence our ability to lead.
(KUNIN) Those looking for an opening to attack Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s qualifications for a seat on the Supreme Court have had a tough job. The best they have done, so far, is accuse her of "identity politics." Egads! they say, she might bring her experience as a strong Latina woman to the bench.
Three cheers, I say. What her white male critics seem to forget is that they have practiced identity politics for several hundred years. The template of white male leadership has become the norm to such a degree that any deviation from that portrait is considered by some to be threatening. They find it difficult to adjust to the idea that any identities different from their own have a rightful place in the power structure of a democracy.
But what Judge Sotomayor would bring to the court is not only a different ethnicity; she would bring a different set of life experiences. Her white male critics delude themselves into thinking that they have not brought their largely privileged life experiences to the court.
We all see the world through the lens of our experiences; that’s the human condition. The fact that I was brought up by a single mother and came to this country with no knowledge of English has shaped my views and values.
How could Sotomayor’s experiences of bring brought up by her mother, of being the first person in her family to go to college, of having vaulted over the hurdles of poverty and discrimination – not influence her? Life experience is something to be celebrated, not denied. Yes, decisions must be in keeping with the law, and her record shows she has been scrupulous in that respect; but the law, as both liberal and conservative justices have proven, is often open to interpretation. Otherwise, all decisions would be unanimous.
Sotomayor, if confirmed, would become the third woman on the Supreme Court. No doubt gender will not influence many of her cases; but as Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg have proven, gender is sometimes a significant factor. Most recently, Justice Ginsberg was appalled when her colleagues didn’t see how painful it was for a 13 year old girl to be strip searched at school. Nor did they understand the significance of pay discrimination the way she did, in the Lily Ledbetter case.
Nothing in Sotomayor’s brilliant record indicates that she would rule by ethnicity alone, but everything in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court indicates that the search for more perfect justice will be served by validating her life experiences, which reflect the experiences of so many Americans.