McWhorter explains his position thusly,
“What Sotomayor has meant is that a Latina woman is better placed to render judgments because being a member of a minority group makes one especially alert to being perceived in various ways as an other, and that being a member of a minority group of disproportionate poverty lends one sensitivity to the difficulties of being poor and how our concepts of justice might be informed by that . . . However, Sotomayor rather plainly did not mean that Latina people are in some inherent way, possibly genetic, better posed to render legal judgments than white people.”
I have concerns about McWhorter’s opinion. First, those who come to Sotomayor’s defense almost always soften or change the meaning of her words. Even McWhorter refuses to admit that wise Latinas come to better conclusions than white men. Instead, Sotomayor was “better placed” to make judgments because of a heightened alertness or increased sensitivity. These are McWhorter’s words, not Sotomayor’s. Logically speaking, making better judgments means being a better judge. And if Latinas make better judges because of their minority life experiences, then perhaps white judges should be a thing of the past?
My second concern is with the presumption that increased sensitivity, or what Obama calls “empathy” is a valuable quality for a judge. McWhorter says,
“One cannot claim a greater insight into the nature of our conversation on race while assailing Sonia Sotomayor as a racist for saying that growing up as a poor person of color might enhance the ethical dimensions of one’s legalistic reasonings in a multiethnic society riddled with socioeconomic inequality.”
My first question is, why not? How is being a poor minority relevant to interpreting the Constitution or existent laws? Emotions are a helpful human characteristic when they provide a strong personal drive to achieve goals, but they tend to cloud judgment and often lead to unpredictable results.
It reminds me of the new Star Trek movie where Spock had to decline his position has Captain of the USS Enterprise because he saw his home planet completely destroyed by a villain he knew he would have to pursue later. Seeing the instant death of six billion inhabitants, including his own mother, overwhelmed him emotionally (yes, even for a Vulcan), and the emotional baggage began to bleed into his clear and logical decision making. For the better interest of his crew, he handed over the reigns to First Officer James Kirk (featured on the right).
Empathy is a good human quality when it provides motherly support to a frail human psyche, but it becomes problematic when it’s applied to the interpretation of law – an organized system intended to protect all men equally. We don’t need judges that read into the law using emotion has their guide; we need judges that see the law through the lens of logic.
It’s doubtful that Sotomayor’s comments about the wise Latina suggest a belief that Hispanic women are inherently better judges. It is obvious that Sotomayor meant Latinas, due to the inequality of their experiences, are better fit to make better conclusions than those who lack such experiences. This conclusion may be softer than espousing a view that one ethnic group is genetically superior to another, but the comment remains racist. If an unwise white man had made similar comments about superior conclusion making on the basis of white experiences, the political firestorm likely to ensue would be sufficient for an instant recusal. Ironically, the wise Latina that Sonia Sotomayor speaks so highly of failed to be a nominee to the Supreme Court.