On Tuesday night, PBS’s NewsHour discussed the Sotomayor nomination with a panel including Jenny Rivera, a former Sotomayor clerk and head of the Center on Latino and Latina Equal Rights. You could hear the latest buzz words on diversity being used. The addition of Latina diversity brings a certain "integrity" to the Supreme Court, which suffers from an "insularity," from being encased in a bubble:
GWEN IFILL, anchor: Jenny Rivera, how much is there -- is there a just concern about identity politics beginning to define the day for picks like this? Here we have another first.
RIVERA: Well, I think the president didn't make a choice based on identity politics. He made the choice based on the merits of her intellectual capabilities, on the experience that she brought to the court.
And you heard David Axelrod say, you know, the fact that she happens to also be Latina and be a woman, it's wonderful that we can bring that to the court. But this was a choice based on the strength of her background, her experience, and her intellect. And, certainly, that's important.
But at the same time, we have to recognize that the court is vulnerable to criticism that it doesn't look like the rest of the country and therefore is insensitive to those issues, and it is encased in this bubble, and there's an insularity about the court.
So it is important that we all feel that all sections, all branches of government somehow have a certain integrity behind them and really speak to people.
And I think certainly President Obama, when he says he's looking for someone who has empathy and who understands the implications of these cases on real people, is recognizing also the significance of the judiciary, not just the executive branch, not just the legislative branch, being a branch of government that all people in the United States, all our various, diverse communities can feel carry a certain integrity behind them and rule not based on appearances, but look at the merits of the case, and apply the rule of law, and apply those values of the Constitution.
Ifill didn't react by asking: "So a room full of whites can't make a decision with "integrity"? Can the current Supreme Court make a decision with "integrity"? Or is the current court implicitly dishonest by its ethnic makeup?
Integrity can be defined as "wholeness," but would the Supreme Court then need to have an Asian member, a native American member, and someone from the "disability community" to reach "integrity"?
This exchange was spurred by a conservative guest, James Copland of the Manhattan Institute, who reacted to a vague Ifill question about ethnicity by suggesting Sotomayor suggesting a Latina woman would be a wiser judge than a white man:
I think the Latina woman quote will get some play, and I think it should. What concerns me a little bit about this demographic picking, when you're sort of trying to pick the court is, is the notion that one person's life experience should, in fact, have a lot of impact on how they rule in a given case.
That doesn't mean that judges are blind to the long-run impacts of their decisions, but that the real-world impacts of their decisions go beyond whatever the hardship is that the individual might have faced.
So when Judge Sotomayor strongly dissented from a panel on the Second Circuit that was dismissing a lawsuit against a school board for demoting a black student who had underperformed, the real-world consequences of that go beyond that actual instance, but, in fact, create this sort of litigation, education through litigation problem we've got, which arguably we do a disservice to the very constituencies that that sort of empathy that she wants to embrace tends to create.