Back during the last wave of Supreme Court nominees (has it actually been more than three years since then?), I wrote a number of entries discussing the extent to which true "impartiality" is even possible. This time around, there is a sense in which "the shoe is on the other foot," as we have a nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, who was appointed by a Democratic president, but a lot of the same issues started coming up pretty much as soon as Sotomayor's name was announced.
Of course, a good bit of the controversy has come up from her "wise Latina" remarks, but I expect that this would have been the case regardless. I don't really want to try to defend her remarks themselves too much (her actual judicial record seems to do that adequately enough, especially in regard to the issue of whether or not she demonstrates bias), but I am dismayed at how much the words "empathy" and "compassion" are being used in this debate as though they are bad things.
One thing I've learned over the past few years of living in Southern California, both from people of other races and from women who care about equality issues, is that people who are actually members of a given minority are more likely to notice when an injustice is being committed against their group than a white male is (incidentally, just to comment on a bit of dialogue from the confirmation hearings, I don't mean "choose to see." I mean "see."). All too often, I've seen complaints made by such minorities written off as being "too sensitive," and not properly taken seriously. I'm not trying to argue that either these minorities or the white males in question aren't biased in some way. I've long maintained that it's impossible to be totally bias-free. Nor do I believe that every time a minority cries "racism" or "sexism" that racism or sexism is actually taking place. But I have come to take those concerns far more seriously, and to give the cases in which those concerns are raised a closer look.
That's what I expect out of a Supreme Court Justice. I expect them to take a very close look at whatever cases are presented before them. I do expect them to try, insofar as they are able, to lay whatever prejudices they have aside. I simply feel that there is a case to be made that a "wise Latina" may well be able to see things that another person may miss on first glance, and that if she is able to bring these issues to the attention of others, then there is a greater opportunity to give those issues close scrutiny that might well be missed if the "wise Latina" isn't present. That's not to say that I think we need to start setting "quotas" for having minorities on the Supreme Court, or necessarily in any other particular place. But it is to say that there is value to be had because a person represents a different group, and that it is unfair to dismiss this value, much less to turn it into a negative.