Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Court of the United States


Separate, Unequal, the Whole Thing

I don’t want to forget to thank Ankhesen, Michele, and Steven for their recent comments on my posts.

And speaking of forgetting, let’s take a second to reacquaint ourselves with an overlooked part of Latino history – indeed, an ignored part of American history.

Most of us remember learning about Brown vs. Board of Education, the case that ended racial segregation in public schools. It is justifiably remembered as a mighty blow against legal discrimination.

Like many Americans, I thought that Brown was the alpha and omega of school desegregation in America. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I only recently found out about Mendez v. Westminster School District. Why this case doesn’t even merit a passing mention in history classes is beyond me.

Because I assume most of you are as in the dark as I was, let me recap Mendez for you. Basically, in 1945, a few uppity Chicanos sued a California school district because their children were forced to attend separate “schools for Mexicans,” rather than the nice schools where white kids went.

To the shock of establishment types everywhere, the parents won. The school board appealed, and the parents won again. The disturbing aspect, however, is that the appeal relied on a technicality, which was that Latino kids weren’t specifically mentioned in the segregation laws of the time. Instead, the laws pinpointed “children of Chinese, Japanese or Mongolian parentage” (yikes!).

But a win is a win, and the case seemed destined for the Supreme Court. However, California saw how this was going, got wise, and abolished the law, thus ending the practice of legal segregation in the state.

It wasn’t until seven years later that the rest of the country caught up, in the Brown decision. I will leave it to a lawyer to assess how important the Mendez precedent was to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown. However, I think we can all agree that it certainly didn’t hurt.

In any case, the girl at the center of the Mendez case tells her story here. She may have been an unwilling pioneer, but future generations of Latinos can still thank her and her parents for standing up for civil rights.

And I would add that her place in history is secure, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.


One Less Thing to Argue About

Ultimately, it was pretty anticlimactic. As we all know, Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed this week as the latest Supreme Court Justice. She took the oath of office today.


She is the first Latina on the court, of course, and her success can’t help but be an inspiration to Hispanics, even to surly bloggers who think they’re above it all (ahem…).

Sotomayor was confirmed by a 68-31 vote, with all the Democrats and nine Republicans voting for her. That means about three-quarters of the GOP Senators said, “Never mind the uplifting story and impressive qualifications, I’m terrified she’s going to rule that we all have to speak Spanish.”

The newest justice will have plenty of time to prove whether she’s an intellectual jurist who exercises solid judgment, or if she’s a crazed left-wing agitator who empathizes all over the place.

Sane people should have little trouble guessing where she’ll land on that continuum.


Some Friendly Advice

I’m not in the habit of giving advice to the Republican Party, which is just as well, because they’re not in the habit of accepting it. But in the spirit of bipartisanship, I offer the following: Drop the lame attacks on Sonia Sotomayor, because they’re not going to work.


I say this as a member of the Hispanic demographic, which as you know, is one of the 13,000 groups that Republicans are supposedly trying to win back. I also say it as an American citizen with common sense, which is one of the groups the GOP lost a long time ago.

Yes, we know that the Supreme Court nominee has one controversial ruling (the “reverse-discrimination” firefighter case) and that she mouthed off about Latinas making better decisions than white men. But Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh’s claims that she’s a closet bigot are simply not resonating. And unless pictures emerge of Sotomayor wearing a t-shirt saying, “I hate white people,” that isn’t going to change.

To my Republican friends, I say back off while you can. The first reason you can’t stop her is a factual one.

Sotomayor is a well-qualified judge with years of experience. The anonymous allegations that she is dim simply don’t add up (the woman was summa cum laude from Princeton… sounds like a moron to me).

In addition, she also offers a compelling story (The Bronx, diabetes, “Perry Mason,” and so on). Sotomayor had to earn her way into the Ivy League, where she excelled. She wasn’t some rich kid who got in because of family connections and then barely squeaked by with mediocre grades (ahem… where was I?).

This is a chance for Republicans to stop rebuking their own philosophy. You know the one I’m talking about: “Anyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and not let their circumstances keep them back.”

Yet whenever someone actually does that – like President Clinton, President Obama, and Sotomayor – they wind up despised in conservative circles. Then the GOP goes with the son of a president or the son of an admiral to carry their standard. In truth, the last Republican I recall who actually came from dirt was Alberto Gonzalez, and we all (especially mortified Latinos) know how that one turned out.

Republicans should be thrilled. Here is a woman who actually did what they claim everyone can do: Raise up to greatness from lower-class origins. Weirdly enough, they don’t seem pleased see her.

Mike Huckabee couldn’t even be bothered to know her name.

In any case, the second reason for Republicans to cool it is a purely political one.

Do they really want to piss off the fastest-growing block of voters, who by the way, just rejected their presidential candidate by a factor of two to one? Is telling the first Latina ever nominated for the Supreme Court that she’s not good enough truly the message they want to send to Hispanics like me?

And I’m not even talking about the many women who would be furious, all of whom would rightly ask, “So Clarence Thomas is ok up there, but not another woman?”

Speaking of Thomas, I find it interesting that Republicans talk a great game about picking only the best and ignoring racial considerations. Eighteen years ago, Thomas was considered by many to be a lightweight who only got in because Thurgood Marshall was leaving, and Republicans wanted credit for appointing an African American to replace him. They denied this, of course, and said Thomas would go on to greatness. Two decades later, we’re still waiting for the guy to ask a question, author a memorable opinion, or be anything other than Antonin Scalia’s sidekick.

In any case, people like George Will come across as oblivious when they denounce “identity politics,” as if John Roberts’ upbringing as a straight white male has had no impact on his tendency to vote for the establishment.

Still, if all these reasons aren’t enough, let’s look at the basic math.

Democrats have 59 votes, and may even have a filibuster-proof 60 if the Minnesota mess ever gets figured out. Many of the 40 Republican Senators are moderates who are not terrified of a left-center Latina. So what chance do the 20 to 30 hard-right conservatives have to stop her confirmation? The numbers just aren’t there.

But let’s just say that Republicans derail the Sotomayor nomination. Then what happens?

Well, Obama just picks someone else they despise. And eventually, this person gets confirmed, giving us the same court we have today. If anything, such a court might be even more liberal than Sotomayor would have made it. Oh, and there’s also a whole lot of angry Hispanic and female voters now.

But go ahead, Republicans, don’t listen to me. You never have before.



So President Obama has announced his pick to replace David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court. It is Sonia Sotomayor, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals. She would be the third woman and – yes it’s true – the first Hispanic to become a Supreme Court justice.


There’s some debate about that, actually, because Benjamin Cardozo, who served in the 1930s, was Portuguese-Jewish. I’ve written before about the complexity of pinpointing exactly who is Hispanic (my first post, in fact).  However, I’m going to be bold here and say that referring to Cardozo as Latino is the stretchiest of stretches. And I’m well aware that “stretchiest” is not a word; that’s how much I mean it.

Therefore, Sotomayor would be the first. That’s enough to get my attention. A brief look at her record indicates that she’s slightly liberal, which pleases me (a fact that will surprise no one who has read this blog).

She seems to have the respect of her colleagues, a fierce work ethic, and a solid, fairly noncontroversial record. So why isn’t she a slam-dunk for the job?

Well, some commentators have questioned her intelligence. I find this perplexing.

If someone can graduate from Princeton and Yale Law School (with honors), work as a high-level judge for seventeen years, be considered for one of the most important jobs in the country, and yet still be considered dim… well, it either means that there’s something seriously botched in our educational and political system, or the standards for regular Americans to be considered “bright” are appallingly low (I don’t know anybody who has her credentials, yet I mistakenly thought I knew some smart people).

One has to wonder if her supposed tendency to be “kind of a bully on the bench” and the assertion that she “has an inflated opinion of herself and is domineering” have influenced the opinion of her intellect.

Of course, I have no idea if Sotomayor is really a bully or not. But Antonin Scalia regularly gets cranky, and people respect his assertiveness. Perhaps we just don’t like to see that behavior in Hispanic women.

Maybe the description that one of her former clerks offered –that “she’s not shy or apologetic about who she is” – provides sufficient ammo for her critics. But she just sounds to me like a confident Latina.

As such, I hope she gets approved for the gig.

May 2019
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