Sotomayor and AlitoToday is day four of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. Throughout the hearings, critics have continued to characterize Sotomayor’s background and personal experience as an impediment to impartial rulings.

On Monday, Dr. Tom Coburn, Senator from Oklahoma, released a statement on Sotomayor: “The American people need judges who will interpret the Constitution, not rewrite it based on ideology or personal opinion.” As you probably know, her opponents have repeatedly accused Sotomayor of racism for discussing the way identity shapes judicial decisions. Coburn’s statement stresses the importance of objectivity and fairness and demonstrate his fear that Sotomayor’s life experiences (i.e., her gender and ethnicity) will negatively affect her decisions as a Supreme Court judge.

In 2006, amid Judge Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court nomination hearings, Coburn seemed to think that Alito’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 don’t care about the less fortunate, you don’t care about the little guy, you don’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 what’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 point… when a case comes before me involving, let’s say, someone who is an immigrant — and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases — I can’t help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn’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. Coburn’s (and others’) 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 Sotomayor’s personal experiences are a liability. What’s the difference? What are your thoughts on the hearings? Are gender and race an issue in the way Sotomayor is being treated?

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