26 May 2009

Reaching Better Conclusions

Judge Sonya Sotomayor, President Obama's first nominee to the Supreme Court has said:
Justice [Sandra Day] O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise
old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases....
I am... not so sure that I agree with the statement. First... there can never be
a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope 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.
If this is her feeling, then its obvious that the bench need be made up solely of women on Hispanic descent. They will reach better conclusions due to the richness of their experiences that no mere caucasion could fathom. Was Ledbetter decided properly? According to the president it wasn't, as this is the case that he cited when saying he wants empathetic judges.

I'll say yet again, judges being empathetic is just dandy, so long as their empathy doesn't interfere with their interpretation of the law. But how, specifically, did Ledbetter betray any sense of empathy? The legislature was silent on a particular issue, the plaintiff sued based on a particular statute and not another, where the question of the timeliness of the act was covered in her favor. Were the justices to say, "Well the statute is silent on this particular matter and it is obvious that there was discrimination (they held that there was) so we'll decide in her favor"?


It is tough to tell what reasoning they should have had because former constitutional scholar and professor Obama did not share any specifics.

But soon we will have Justice Sotomayor (alas, only one of her) and we will then be able to know all that we've been missing throughout our poor history; wanting the richness of experience that she will now be in position to share.

A few other points: she's not Latina. She's American of Puerto Rican descent. There is no Latin America. At least not on any map I've ever seen. The Caribbean Islands and Central and South America were conquered and settled by the Spanish and Portugese. I can't recall ever hearing the phrase Latin American before the 1990s. The use of Latin, in this sense, is due to the fact that the areas were ruled by nations who spoke Romance languages, of which, coincidentally, English is one. Languages derived from the mother Roman tongue, Latin. These cultures are no more ingrained with ancient Roman culture than the US or Canada, and in some instances very much farther removed. So technically, all of the Americas are Latin America and someone born in the Bronx in 1954 would do just as well to look at herself as an American first and foremost, one who is about to have a pretty damn important job.

It also grates my gears when native English speakers pronounce it "Lateena," or better yet "Lateeña," to show that they're hip or whatever. I've noticed this is only done with Spanish and no other language--other that when the talking heads starting speaking of Qatar and pronouncing it gutter as a fluent Arabian might, except those fluent Arabians at the Qatari embassy who would pronounce it Qatar because they were in America. Paris is never, thankfully, referred to as Paree. I've never heard anyone affect the proper German (or hoch Deutsch) pronunciation of Bonn or Berlin. When I took German in high school and college I briefly affected the German accent when speaking of particular towns or phrases, properly pronouncing Gesundhëit and such. I sounded like, and was, a horse's ass.

I've heard of Judge Sotomayor bfore (she was involved in the labor dispute between Major League Baseball and the Players Association in the mid-90s) and her name was always pronounced as it reads, emphasis on the "s" and crisp pronunciation of the "t" and mayor was articulated the same was as the elected officials on large towns and cities. But this morning, the Latin bug (in the bastardized, identity-politics sense) seemed to creep out of hiding and the emphasis is "SoTomayOR."

I don't know how she'll be as a justice, she may end up being as good as Souter sucked--I doubt it, but one can hope, eh? But her above referenced quote is disturbing, as is Obama's view of what baggage a judge should carry with him when reading a text.

UPDATE: Eugene Volokh considers whether Benjamin Cardozo, who was Hispanic, was also "Latin." He seems to accept as legitimate, though ruefully, the "latino/a" moniker.
Again, it's a false creation for political purposes. If proposed legislation in America were to benefit, say, Panama or Nicaragua it may or may not pass based on the merits of the actual legislation. If the legislation is phrased to benefit "Latin America" or "Latin Americans" its passage is all but guaranteed--unless its a free-trade agreement that pisses off the unions, then there might be some issues, but its identity politics all the same

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