‘A lot less provocative and troubling’

‘A LOT LESS PROVOCATIVE AND TROUBLING’…. It’s a 32-word quote: “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.” That line, from a speech Judge Sonia Sotomayor delivered in 2001, is necessarily a disqualifying remark for a Supreme Court nominee, according to a variety of conservatives.

Indeed, those 32 words not only have prompted some of the right’s more unhinged activists (Gingrich, et al) to call for Sotomayor to withdraw from high court consideration, it’s also prompted many more conservative leaders (Limbaugh, et al) to smear the nominee as a “racist” and a “bigot.”

It’s why I was I was impressed by this item from conservative writer Rod Dreher, who took the time to read the entire 2001 speech. The headline of his piece today reads, “I was wrong about Sotomayor speech.”

Taken in context, the speech was about how the context in which we were raised affects how judges see the world, and that it’s unrealistic to pretend otherwise. Yet — and this is a key point — she admits that as a jurist, one is obligated to strive for neutrality. It seems to me that Judge Sotomayor in this speech dwelled on the inescapability of social context in shaping the character of a jurist. That doesn’t seem to me to be a controversial point, and I am relieved by this passage:

“While recognizing the potential effect of individual experiences on perception, Judge Cedarbaum nevertheless believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law. Although I agree with and attempt to work toward Judge Cedarbaum’s aspiration, I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases.”

Relieved, because it strikes me as both idealistic and realistic. I am sure Sotomayor and I have very different views on the justice, or injustice, of affirmative action, and I’m quite sure that I won’t much care for her rulings as a SCOTUS justice on issues that I care about. But seeing her controversial comment in its larger context makes it look a lot less provocative and troubling.

Good for Dreher. He and I agree on practically nothing, but I appreciate the fact that he took the time to read Sotomayor’s speech and was willing to admit that he was mistaken about its meaning.

I suspect any intellectually honest and serious observer would read the same speech and reach the same conclusion. The “controversy” over the remark is little more than a foolish exercise, launched by partisans who couldn’t be bothered to do with Dreher did: read the whole thing.

This “wise Latina” matter may be at the top of the right’s list of talking points, and I really doubt Limbaugh, Gingrich, & Co. care about the integrity of their criticisms, but if this is the best they’ve got against Sotomayor, it says more about them than her.