Sotomayor: What the Supreme Court really needs is more diversity

posted at 6:31 pm on April 10, 2016 by Jazz Shaw

Not everyone is a fan of putting Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court and we’re not just talking about Senate Republicans here. Though the complaints are a bit veiled, it sounds as if Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor isn’t exactly leading the Garland cheering section either. In an address she delivered at the Brooklyn School of Law, Sotomayor made an oblique reference to Garland when she bemoaned the lack of “diversity” on the bench and why it would be important to judge prospective nominees, at least in part, on factors other than their judicial bona fides. (Time)

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Friday that greater diversity on the high court is important, in comments made shortly after President Barack Obama once again urged a vote on his Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

“I, for one, do think there is a disadvantage from having (five) Catholics, three Jews, everyone from an Ivy League school,” Sotomayor said during a talk at Brooklyn Law School, adding that several of the justices are from New York City and none of them have a background in criminal defense law outside of white-collar crime, the Associated Press reported.

Sotomayor said varied backgrounds help justices to consider and understand issues differently, based on their experience.

“A different perspective can permit you to more fully understand the arguments that are before you and help you articulate your position in a way that everyone will understand,” she said.

This, in a nutshell, demonstrates just how far afield we’ve run from the basic idea of justice and the rule of law. It’s on display with many of the arguments we see put forward by Democratic supporters of the President, but it’s particularly alarming when it’s coming from someone currently seated on the highest court in the land. Before going further, I’d like to share an image with Justice Sotomayor which may indeed be worth a thousand words.

BlindJustice

Those are lovely sentiments she shared during her speech, but they speak more to the tapestry of American culture. What they are supposed to have nothing to do with is justice and the rule of law. Justice is blind for a reason. Human beings, including those wearing robes and handing down decisions, are the flawed vessels who must interpret the laws, but the laws themselves must apply to everyone equally. They have to be blind to color, religion, gender, economic background and all the other factors. The rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, are all supposed to stand before the bar at the same height. And that goes for those who must interpret those laws as well as those who face a trial.

But now we clearly live in an era where checking off the boxes for various demographic pigeonholes carries more weight than boring old ideas such as qualifications or experience. It’s not what the law says or intends, so much as how you feel about it and how it impacted your personal experience growing up. It’s a sad statement.

That was some unexpected criticism of the Garland pick to be sure, but the President has chosen a new tactic in defending his choice and pushing for a hearing. In Chicago this week, Obama claimed that stonewalling his nomination could imperil the very roots of democracy. (The Atlantic)

In Chicago on Thursday, Obama elevated the stakes: He suggested this kind of polarization would effectively break the judicial branch. If the courts are more politicized, citizens will “lose confidence” in judges’ ability to be fair and to issue legitimate rulings. “It’s not just a matter of who’s occupying that ninth seat in the Supreme Court,” he said. “It has to do with how we as a democracy operate.” He suggested Republican inaction could precede Democratic inaction years from now, when a conservative is in the White House looking to fill a seat. It is “inconceivable,” he said, to expect Democrats to agree to hearings and a vote in the future if Republicans don’t hold them now.

In some ways I actually agree with the President on this score. The system has been broken for years. Both Democrats and Republicans apply such litmus tests to Supreme Court nominees that nobody with an original thought is likely to make it through the process. It’s completely politicized. But I’m not fooled into thinking that Barack Obama has any interest in ending that particular battle. These are simply rationalizations meant to get his own brand of bias pushed through before he leaves office.

Sotomayor


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