Who's on Trial, Sotomayor or Republicans?
When I dared to suggest that Sonia Sotomayor could be a shoo-in for a Supreme Court nomination — three weeks before President Barack Obama actually picked her — some people told me I had gone too far out on a limb.
"Estás loco," some of my friends told me. They said that my longing for Hispanic representation on the high court had distorted my sense of reality. Some said I was dreaming, and others called me delusional.
Frankly, I still think it was an easy call. When Obama and other members of his administration spoke of the qualities they sought in their first Supreme Court nominee — excellence, integrity, respect for the rule of law, and real-life experiences that make her a better judge — to me, it seemed as if they were painting a picture of Sotomayor.
The fact that she is a Latina is not a qualification, I wrote, but it's certainly icing on the cake, especially because she would help balance the current court's lopsided 8-1 gender scale and add some ethnic diversity to what has been predominantly a white men's club. Seeing as 106 white men, two white women and two black men had been seated throughout the court's history, it seemed as if the "Corte Suprema" was more than overdue for a Latina.
Nevertheless, suggesting that a Puerto Rican woman from the projects of the Bronx, N.Y., could suddenly become one of the country's most influential people was too much wishful thinking, even for many Latinos who wanted to see it happen.
"Five years ago, if you would have asked me what had a better chance of becoming reality — finding life on Mars or having a black president appoint a Puerto Rican woman to the Supreme Court — I would have picked life on Mars," one of my friends told me after Obama nominated Sotomayor last week. This particular friend, journalist Elaine Rivera, a Puerto Rican woman who lives in the South Bronx, also said, "Now it feels like we are living in a dream."
In the Hispanic community, Sotomayor's nomination can be equated with that wonderful elation felt by many African-Americans when Obama was elected president. Across the country, Latinos are telling their children, "Sí, se puede," because they, too, can grow up to become justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.
And just as Latinos are beginning to enjoy this moment of pride and euphoria, just as they are beginning to realize what previously was only a dream, some very hateful people who claim to speak for the Republican Party are turning the whole thing into a nightmare.
In spite of Sotomayor's vast experience and brilliant career, some Republican flamethrowers are implying that she was picked only because she is a Latina, as if no Hispanic could get that job if the selection were based purely on intellect.
Even if they don't mean it as an insult, that's the effect!
Clinging to a few misspoken words by Sotomayor, right-wing extremists, such as Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, already are branding the judge as a racist.
Amazingly, these are the same people who don't like to be called racists — the ones who claim that civil discourse cannot be had if the left always is accusing them of racism.
Is Sotomayor an activist judge or a judge who recognizes that her life experiences affect her decisions? That's a legitimate debate. Is she going to tilt the balance of the court? Even that question, although problematic, has become acceptable.
What is not acceptable and, frankly, repulsive is the effort to turn Sotomayor into a reverse racist — all because of her choice of words during a 2001 speech at the University of California, Berkeley, in which she noted that "a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."
Even when they purposely ignore the rest of her speech and decide to take that sentence totally out of context — as many obviously have — most rational Americans can see that, as the president said Friday, "what's clear is that she was simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going through, that will make her a good judge."
But the Republican leadership in Congress — instead of strongly condemning the outrageous diatribes of those who claim to speak for the party — simply is saying that Gingrich and Limbaugh are not elected officials. It's not enough!
Imagine how Latino Republicans must feel when they hear the GOP zealots suggesting that their party doesn't need the Hispanic vote? Could this lead to massive desertions? Possibly. Stay tuned for the Senate confirmation hearings!
The tone of the dialogue is getting so nasty that many in the Spanish news media rightfully are asking whether the Republican Party is on the verge of self-destructing.
Certainly in the Hispanic community, after the damage GOP zealots have done to their party over the issue of immigration, the Sotomayor nomination could represent the last nail on the Republicans' coffin. When we watch the upcoming confirmation hearings, it will be Republicans, not Sotomayor, who will be on trial.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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