Today is day four of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. Throughout the hearings, critics have continued to characterize Sotomayorâ€™s background and personal experience as an impediment to impartial rulings.
On Monday, Dr. Tom Coburn, Senator from Oklahoma, released a statement on Sotomayor: â€œThe American people need judges who will interpret the Constitution, not rewrite it based on ideology or personal opinion.â€ As you probably know, her opponents have repeatedly accused Sotomayor of racism for discussing the way identity shapes judicial decisions. Coburnâ€™s statement stresses the importance of objectivity and fairness and demonstrate his fear that Sotomayorâ€™s life experiences (i.e., her gender and ethnicity) will negatively affect her decisions as a Supreme Court judge.
In 2006, amid Judge Samuel Alitoâ€™s Supreme Court nomination hearings, Coburn seemed to think that Alitoâ€™s personal experience and background served to benefit the court, rather than limit his ability to serve. Take a look at the video.
An excerpt from the exchange:
COBURN: I think at times during these hearings you have been unfairly criticized or characterized as that you donâ€™t care about the less fortunate, you donâ€™t care about the little guy, you donâ€™t care about the weak or the innocent. Can you comment just about Sam Alito, and what he cares about, and let us see a little bit of your heart and whatâ€™s important to you in life?
ALITO: Senator, I tried to in my opening statement, I tried to provide a little picture of who I am as a human being and how my background and my experiences have shaped me and brought me to this pointâ€¦ when a case comes before me involving, letâ€™s say, someone who is an immigrant â€” and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases â€” I canâ€™t help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasnâ€™t that long ago when they were in that position. [Emphasis mine.]
I have expressed my disdain about the accusation of racism against the first Latina woman to be nominated as a Supreme Court justice previously. It is not my intention to attack Dr. Coburn, but to underscore the condescending overtones of the hearings. Dr. Coburnâ€™s (and othersâ€™) words and sentiments speak for themselves and I believe offer confirmation that many of the attacks against Sotomayor are unfair. When Alito expressed his unique outlook due to his personal history, Coburn approved, but Sotomayorâ€™s personal experiences are a liability. Whatâ€™s the difference? What are your thoughts on the hearings? Are gender and race an issue in the way Sotomayor is being treated?