Civility and Sonia Sotomayor

Hey. Today is National Leave the Office Earlier Day. Go for it. I know I will. Of course, I really don’t have all that much going on these days. Unlike Sonia Sotomayor, the SCOTUS nominee, who will be making the rounds of congressional offices for a nationally commented on meet and greet. Good luck to her with that, especially as she knocks on the office doors of some of the Senate Republicans who have floated their trial reelection balloons that she is an incompetent racist – at best.

Wow. Ever go to a job interview with that as a starting point? And that’s too bad since this is an important matter — and whether to confirm Sotomayor or not has implications for this country for years to come. Let’s hope the senators make the decision based on her knowledge of the law, career legal decisions and her integrity as a judge and as an individual. Playing the “racist” card here is, uh, embarrassing to the judge, to those who oppose her nomination for any number of solid legal or career reasons, and frankly to our nation.

Here’s the issue, as reported by The New York Times:

It is time to elevate the discussion to where it belongs: the Constitution and the role of the judiciary.

The talking point conservatives pushed hardest last week — to the alarm finally of some Republican senators — was a 2001 speech in which Judge Sotomayor said she hoped 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.”

The context matters: she was pointing out that throughout history even esteemed white male justices like Oliver Wendell Holmes voted to uphold race and sex discrimination. She said accidents of birth inform people’s views, but judges must strive to look beyond them.

Several justices, including some conservatives, have made similar comments. Samuel Alito, an Italian-American, said at his confirmation hearing: “When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.” Clarence Thomas told the Senate he could “walk in the shoes of the people who are affected by what the court does.”

Josh Gerstein, writing in Politico, says:

Some Democrats and political analysts are urging the White House to shift course and concede that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor made an error when she suggested in 2001 that Hispanic women would make better judges than white men.

“She misspoke,” said Lanny Davis, a White House lawyer and spokesman for President Bill Clinton. “Every day that goes by that they don’t say she misspoke and she used the wrong words … they just feed it and give it life and give Rush [Limbaugh] and [Sean] Hannity more airtime unnecessarily.”

I expect that before we are finished with this Sotomayor will put the remark into context, say she misspoke, apologize, whatever. Most likely necessary in today’s Cable TV Talking Head environment. But I’m as old and white and male as Rush and Hannity and Newt — and in many ways just as conservative — and I have a hard time accepting the view that Sotomayor is a racist. Different view of life and the world than me. Yep. Different life experiences. No doubt. Excellent, qualified judge. No idea. Racist. Nah.

Let’s move on — and let’s dignify the entire process with some civility.

I’ve mentioned this previously in these posts. While I was at BFGoodrich, I had the opportunity to help in a very small way John Ong, then the company’s chairman and CEO, prepare his commencement remarks at Ohio State University in 1996. The title: On Civility. Here’s from the talk:

Always be civil. It is really quite easy. Treat others with respect and observe the conventions of social behavior that we call good manners. Always reflect on the effect your individual actions are likely to have on others and on society as a whole. Be prepared to sacrifice some of your or your group’s cherished goals if you perceive that their continued advocacy is having an adverse effect on our social fabric. Accept full responsibility for your own actions and insist that those around you — including your children — do likewise. Develop a sense of duty to your community and your fellow citizens.

To Sonia Sotomayor: Good luck with the meet-and-greet visits today. And let’s hope the entire confirmation proceeds with the civility it deserves.

To the rest of us: Don’t be afraid to leave the office earlier today. Woot.


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