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Sotomayor and Alito

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President Obama’s selection of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court is being criticized by some conservatives as “identity politics.” hilzoy quotes one example in one of her posts today, from Senator James Imhofe: “In the months ahead, it will be important for those of us in the U.S. Senate to weigh her qualifications and character as well as her ability to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences.” hilzoy then notes: “Strange to say, Senator Inhofe had no such concerns about Samuel Alito. He didn’t wonder whether Alito’s personal race or gender — or even his impersonal race or gender, whatever those might be — would weigh too heavily with him, or prevent him from ruling fairly. I wonder why not?”

Glenn Greenwald wrote a long post on this issue today, including a quote of a passage from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questioning of Alito I will quote from this at length, since it is so telling. Hypocrisy in action can be ugly to watch.

And Matt Yglesias writes that he is “really truly deeply and personally pissed off by the tenor of a lot of the commentary on Sonia Sotomayor” and, in a separate post, notes the wildly different treatment accorded Sotomayor and Sam Alito despite very similar records.

With regard to that last point — how completely different is the reaction to Sam Alito and Sonia Sotomayor — just consider this exchange that took place at the beginning of Alito’s confirmation hearing:

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Judge Samuel Alito’s Nomination to the Supreme Court

U.S. SENATOR TOM COBURN (R-OK): 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.

ALITO: I don’t come from an affluent background or a privileged background. My parents were both quite poor when they were growing up.

And I know about their experiences and I didn’t experience those things. I don’t take credit for anything that they did or anything that they overcame.

But I think that children learn a lot from their parents and they learn from what the parents say. But I think they learn a lot more from what the parents do and from what they take from the stories of their parents lives.

And that’s why I went into that in my opening statement. Because 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.

And so it’s my job to apply the law. It’s not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result.

But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, “You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country.”

When I have cases involving children, I can’t help but think of my own children and think about my children being treated in the way that children may be treated in the case that’s before me.

And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account. When I have a case involving someone who’s been subjected to discrimination because of disability, I have to think of people who I’ve known and admire very greatly who’ve had disabilities, and I’ve watched them struggle to overcome the barriers that society puts up often just because it doesn’t think of what it’s doing — the barriers that it puts up to them.

So those are some of the experiences that have shaped me as a person.

Anyone who is objecting now to Sotomayor’s alleged “empathy” problem but who supported Sam Alito and never objected to this sort of thing ought to have their motives questioned (and the same is true for someone who claims that a person who overcame great odds to graduate at the top of their class at Princeton, graduate Yale Law School, and then spent time as a prosecutor, corporate lawyer, district court judge and appellate court judge must have been chosen due to “identity politics”).

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