Justice Ginsberg on Judicial Diversity

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, asked whether criticisms of Judge Sonia Sotomayor's intelligence and attitude are gender-based, gave this spot-on answer:

I can’t say that it was just that she was a woman. There are some people in Congress who would criticize severely anyone President Obama nominated. They’ll seize on any handle. One is that she’s a woman, another is that she made the remark about Latina women. [In 2001 Sotomayor said: “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.”] And I thought it was ridiculous for them to make a big deal out of that. Think of how many times you’ve said something that you didn’t get out quite right, and you would edit your statement if you could. I’m sure she meant no more than what I mean when I say: Yes, women bring a different life experience to the table. All of our differences make the conference better. That I’m a woman, that’s part of it, that I’m Jewish, that’s part of it, that I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and I went to summer camp in the Adirondacks, all these things are part of me.

The importance of judicial diversity is exactly the point conservatives refuse to acknowledge when they contend that only conservative judges (who not coincidentally are overwhelmingly white males) "follow the law." [more ...]

Republicans contend that conservative judges follow the law while liberal activist judges make the law. As TalkLeft posts have often discussed, that argument is absurd. Interpreting ambiguous laws and applying statutes and constitutional provisions to new fact situations is a judicial responsibility. Each time an appellate court addresses a legal question that has not been squarely answered by binding precedent or legislation, it is "making law."

Republican complaints about judicial activism foster the myth that there is only one "correct" answer to an unsettled legal question. The first year of law school disabuses surviving students of the misguided notion that difficult questions of law have a single answer. The prevalence of dissenting opinions is proof that there are often two or more reasonable resolutions of legal issues. The "best" answer depends upon how the judge balances competing values. For instance, judges who give greater weight to public safety than civil liberties are more likely to favor the interests of law enforcement than those of criminal defendants, while judges who value individual rights more than deference to executive power are less likely to be swayed by a prosecutor's arguments.

A judge's background and experience necessarily shapes that judge's view of the law. As Justice Ginsberg noted, female judges have a keener appreciation of sex discrimination and sexual harassment than male judges. Their experiences give them first-hand knowledge of the problems that remedial civil rights legislation attempts to address. Appellate judges who are willing to listen and learn from each other gain a deeper appreciation of the law's function and impact when colleagues from from different backgrounds bring their "different life experience[s] to the table."

Only a diverse judiciary can reflect the nation's diversity. The law belongs to everyone, not just conservatives who happen to be white and male. In the words of Justice Ginsberg:

I always thought that there was nothing an antifeminist would want more than to have women only in women’s organizations, in their own little corner empathizing with each other and not touching a man’s world. If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers.

Judge Sotomayor, like Justice Ginsberg, belongs "with the people who hold the levers."

< Thursday Night Open Thread | Friday Morning Open Thread >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Check out what she says about the Ricci case (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by BernieO on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 07:15:38 AM EST
    From what I saw on the Colbert Report the test was about things like spelling - a necessary skill for fireman, apparently. Ginsberg points out the it is unions who usually wanted that kind of test because they wanted to protect their white members from competition from minorities.

    It frustrates me that liberals rarely give enough details for people to understand issues like this. To most people, a surface description of the test does sound like it was Ricci who was being discriminated against. I did not see anyone talking about whether the test addressed skills that were relevant to the job being sought.

    As for diversity, I have noticed that most men do not "get" sex discrimination until it happens to their daughters, something Ginsberg touches on when discussing Rehnquist. As for the assumption that thirteen year old boys would not have as big of a problem with being strip searched, I beg to differ. I remember my son and his friends complaining that the boys' bathroom stalls in their middle school did not have doors but the girls' did. All kids deserve to have their privacy respected.

    "whites want written tests" (2.00 / 0) (#28)
    by diogenes on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 08:43:32 PM EST
    Are you a racist or something, saying that blacks can't learn to spell as well as whites do?  These guys had plenty of time to study for this test.
    If you gave a civil service test on rap music, a guy like Ricci would still have studied his butt off and got the top score.  

    Talk about a racially stereotyped comment. (5.00 / 0) (#32)
    by TChris on Sat Jul 11, 2009 at 03:00:28 AM EST
    Not all blacks listen to rap and hip hop, and many whites (including this older white male blogger) do.

    Uncalled for all the way around, diogenes (none / 0) (#30)
    by Inspector Gadget on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 09:36:12 PM EST
    How in the world did you manage to dissect that comment to come to the conclusion you did?

    You want diversity (2.00 / 0) (#6)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 08:48:59 AM EST
    So Ginsberg grew up in Brooklyn... Sotomayor grew up in Brooklyn....

    How about we find one from Cut 'n Shoot, Texas instead...

    My p[ersonal troll. shows up ;-) (2.00 / 0) (#9)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 08:54:29 AM EST
    Sotomayor grew up in .... (none / 0) (#7)
    by nycstray on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 08:51:45 AM EST
    da Bronx.

    Yeah... (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by kdog on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 08:58:48 AM EST
    Dodger country vs. Yankee country...may as well be different planets:)

    heh (none / 0) (#23)
    by andgarden on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 09:46:16 AM EST
    I still say Cut n' Shoot... (2.00 / 0) (#12)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 08:56:44 AM EST
    Wow. One from Brooklyn and one from the Bronx and none from the rest of the country..

    BTW - How far apart are the two B's??


    in mindset and attitude. (none / 0) (#24)
    by byteb on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 09:59:18 AM EST
    a million miles or so.   ;)

    I agree between C&S and either B or B (2.00 / 0) (#25)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 06:50:54 PM EST
    I wonder if Bish even qualifies (none / 0) (#18)
    by CST on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 09:17:42 AM EST
    I find it incredible that he has a Texas accent considering his background.

    Heh (none / 0) (#19)
    by CST on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 09:17:58 AM EST

    None of that (2.00 / 0) (#26)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 06:52:06 PM EST
    has anything to do with my point.. but nice reframe.

    You have relatives?? (none / 0) (#36)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Jul 11, 2009 at 07:25:01 PM EST
    Gosh.......surely not....

    Gee, I am totally impressed (none / 0) (#40)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 10:33:42 AM EST
    All I can say is I once flew on a flight with Jimmy Carter...

    Oh well, I now why you think yourself so intelligent...


    Your abilties are (none / 0) (#48)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 03:26:31 PM EST
    only exceeded by your ability to boast.

    Diversity overrated (1.00 / 1) (#1)
    by pluege on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 05:18:46 AM EST
    a) Among 9 people you are not going to get close to true diversity.

    b) Only a diverse judiciary can reflect the nation's diversity. It can or can't. Thomas is the opposite of a advocate for blacks, going out of his way to denounce his culture, his, heritage, his blackness.

    c) it is wrong to assume a person can not empathize the conditions of anyone other than their own race and gender. Identity politics is generally a bad thing.

    I disagree. (5.00 / 4) (#2)
    by TChris on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 06:23:14 AM EST
    There are 179 federal court of appeals judgeships, more or less.  It is possible to reflect the diverse backgrounds of Americans (more or less) with that many judgeships to fill.  Even if we focus just on the Supreme Court, it's fairly easy to achieve an accurate reflection of gender diversity by putting four or five women on the Court.

    I do not assume that white males cannot empathize with anyone other than white males.  It's difficult for a male to empathize with a victim of sex discrimination, however, if he's never talked to a woman who has experienced sex discrimination.  Diverse judges bring different experiences to the conference room, experiences that a group of white males will likely never have had.

    Clarence Thomas was the closest Republicans could come to a conservative white male without nominating and confirming a conservative white male.  Of course black judges will not all agree on every legal issue, just as female judges won't agree about every issue.  Justice O'Conner didn't always agree with Justice Ginsberg.  The point is not that a female Justice represents all women or that a black Justice represents all blacks.  The point is that we are not a nation of white male conservatives.  We are a diverse nation, and our people are entitled to see that diversity reflected in our judiciary.

    Diversity isn't a question of "identity politics."  It's a recognition that the judiciary is enriched by judges who come from different backgrounds.  If you're happy with a "white boy's club" judiciary, fine.  I'm not.


    But about the topic, gender diversity (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by Cream City on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 08:37:35 AM EST
    and with only two genders, it really ought not be so tough to achieve, wouldn't you say?  After more than 200 years, and hundreds of justices, only two women -- and especially considering that's the gender that has been the majority of Americans in all that time?

    After all, as Ginsburg said a couple of times in her best snark in this interview, Canada has been far better at this -- as have many other nations less, well, backward than our own.


    Yea (5.00 / 4) (#5)
    by CST on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 08:46:13 AM EST
    I think the question to me is "why not?"

    It's not like we have a lack of qualified, diverse candidates.  Why shouldn't the court be balanced?

    On a personal level I have never found diversity to be over-rated, rather I have found quite the opposite.  People are much more likely to be open-minded when surrounded by people who are different from them.

    Not to mention that when you have a group of people who all have similar backgrounds, I find people are much more likely to make fun of or disparage others since no one is watching.  It's kind of a "frat" mentality, whether that group is all male, all female, all white, or all black, etc...


    Disagree on all three points. (5.00 / 1) (#34)
    by Dr Molly on Sat Jul 11, 2009 at 11:28:16 AM EST
    a) Among 9 slots, you can do a whole lot better on true diversity than 7 white males very, very easily in this country.

    b) Thomas is an outlier that people bring up to deny diversity arguments in a classic case of logical fallacy - arguing to generalizations.

    c) It is wrong to be blind to the centuries of evidence that demonstrate that people with privileged backgrounds do not often have the ability or the interest to understand the challenges faced by other groups of people. Women, blacks, gays have known this for a long time - it is why we need advocates like NOW, the NAACP, etc. Otherwise, we wouldn't need them because the white males would have actually fought for equality but they didn't, and often still don't.

    Finally, white male dominance is a form of identity politics as well. Choosing people of diverse ethnic and gender backgrounds for important positions is no more identity politics than choosing white males.


    "diversity" (1.00 / 1) (#29)
    by diogenes on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 08:50:40 PM EST
    If diversity means not having gone to college in elite Ivy league schools, the both Sotomayor and Obama are disqualified.
    Sotomayor went to a rigorous high school (Cardinal Spellman--too bad more poor kids don't have vouchers so that they can attend such schools), then Princeton and Yale Law School.  She lives in a fancy NY condo.  She is upper middle class all the way.
    Funny how no one clamors for "diversity" to be served by appointing an Asian judge to the Supreme Court.  

    Considering that (5.00 / 0) (#33)
    by TChris on Sat Jul 11, 2009 at 03:13:11 AM EST
    Asian Americans make up nearly 5 percent of the nation's population, they are seriously underrepresented on the federal bench.  Nobody is advocating a quota system, but there's no reason judgeships shouldn't reflect a rough approximation of the nation's demographics.

    As to your earlier point about the Bronx v. Brooklyn, district and court of appeals judges are chosen from within the district or circuit in which they will serve, so (except for the Supreme Court) the federal bench is geographically diverse.


    You just did (none / 0) (#37)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Jul 11, 2009 at 07:25:51 PM EST
    Nobody is advocating a quota system, but there's no reason judgeships shouldn't reflect a rough approximation of the nation's demographics.

    White fireman to testify against Sotomayor . . . (none / 0) (#21)
    by Doc Rock on Fri Jul 10, 2009 at 09:38:36 AM EST
    . . . to show Sotomayor favors minorities because of her decision against the so-called "New Haven 20." By the same type of tortured logic, one SHOULD argue, therefore, that the five Supreme Court Justices who voted to overturn the lower court's decision, should be deemed unworthy of the office as favoring whites!

    Your quote leaves out (none / 0) (#41)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 10:53:27 AM EST
    the part where he says he has to apply the law...it comes right after he says "I can't help.." at around the 1:40 mark.

    I find your use of the incomplete quote to be dishonest. You need to give up on Olberman..

    His words, when you hear him say that he has to apply the law, clearly show that while he understands and has empathy, his job is to apply the law.

    The Left's current heroine didn't say that. And that is a vast difference.

    Here's a linl to KOS that provides a video of what he actually said.


    So your defense is.... (none / 0) (#47)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 03:24:39 PM EST
    I was quoted Olbermann quoting Alito, so your quarrel is with Olbermann, not with me who quoted and relied upon him.

    Simpler.... You say you didn't know the gun was loaded....

    That is the same defense many on the Left have also used when called to task in their attacks on Palin's children.

    That you keep such company is of no surprise...

    And it was so sweet to use KOS to expose you and Olberman...


    heh (none / 0) (#53)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 07:37:49 AM EST
    (I had written) Simpler.... You say you didn't know the gun was loaded...

    You seem to have a great familiarity with alibis, PPJ.  Is that from your own personal necessity?

    Facts be facts. You have been using a quote from Olberman that leaves out a very important statement. With the statement out it is then used to defend Sotomayor's "wise Latino woman" statement. Blame Olbermann, not the person who caught you.

    The question with Sotomayor is what she considers "bending the Constitution." In the New Haven ruling she broke it. In the NY case you offer she appears to agree with it but can't resist commenting on the content. I wonder what the cop actually said. In her "wise Latino woman" she exposes her beliefs. The question becomes, once the SC is no longer holding her in check, is it not reasonable to believe she will do what she believes is right??


    hehe (none / 0) (#55)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Jul 13, 2009 at 09:49:22 PM EST
    Look. You got caught out. Please continue to allow me to make the point that your quote from Olbermann was incomplete and inaccurate in a very important way by trying to defend a laughable position.

    You were wrong. Live with it.

    Thanks again.


    8 of 9 SCOTUS Ivy League (none / 0) (#35)
    by diogenes on Sat Jul 11, 2009 at 05:31:34 PM EST
    Ruth Bader Ginsberg, attended Harvard Law but graduated from Columbia.
    But with the appointment of Yale Law grad Samuel Alito, and Sotomayor in line to replace Harvard Law grad David Souter, the score could fall back to Harvard 4 (Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Breyer), Yale 3 (Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor). Justice John Paul Stevens attended Northwestern Law School.
    If you pick'em by their "merits" (i.e. going to the "best" law school), then what do the "merits" have to do with color, sex, etc?

    heh (none / 0) (#42)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 10:56:20 AM EST
    well, my mother raised no fools, so nice try.

    Present company excepted??


    And I am thankful (none / 0) (#46)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Jul 12, 2009 at 03:18:26 PM EST