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Sotomayor, Jeffrey Rosen, and identity politics

Posted by Christopher Shea  May 27, 2009 11:29 AM

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Judge Sonia Sotomayor

As Matt Yglesias says, re the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor: It's a bad week for Jeffrey Rosen, of the New Republic, who wrote a thinly sourced piece a few weeks ago suggesting that Sontamoyar was "not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench." (Interestingly, in an article Rosen wrote in response to the subsequent uproar, he defended himself only on the bully/temperament issue, ignoring that it was the argument about Sotomayor's IQ that drew most of the attacks.)

As it happens, the judge's mental candlepower does not appear to be a big issue now that she has been nominated. (Except in the form of suggestions that this Princeton grad -- where she won the highest award given to undergraduates -- Yale Law standout, and appeals-court judge owes all of her academic and professional success to affirmative action. Come to think of it, that's a pretty significant exception.)

Sotomayor has, however, been getting flak for arguing that a "wise Latina woman" would be more likely than a white male to come up with the correct answer in certain legal cases. She made the argument quickly and infelicitously, judging from the quotes that are circulating today, opening the door to some fair attacks.

On the one hand, Sotomayor, in the speech in question, did seem to be at least flirting with a crude form of identity politics. On the other, isn't it kind of silly, at this late date, to argue that one's ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic background play no role at all in the formation of one's opinions about justice, fairness, and the meaning of the Bill of Rights?

To frame the identity issue in a slightly different way: Is it likely that a non-white journalist, or even a white journalist who worked at a magazine with a diverse staff, would have published an article suggesting that Sotomayor was a dim bulb? I doubt it.

(Yglesias has more on the identity issue here and here.)

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