Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By Thomas Kochman - 07.14.2009

The present vetting of Sotomayor as a prospective Supreme Court Justice brings to the foreground once again a matter we addressed in the blog Sotomayor and Hispanic Cultural Values , a comment Sotomayor made in a 2001 speech to a group of Hispanics that a “wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn\’t lived that life.\”

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said some of Sotomayor’s statements suggest she could deliver prejudicial opinions. “Call it empathy, call it prejudice or call it sympathy, but whatever it is, it’s not law,” he said. “In truth, it’s more akin to politics, and politics has no place in the courtroom.” 

The proposition that one kind of life experience offers a “better” vantage point or perspective than another is open to debate. Much less disputable is that the perspectives judges  have, the decisions they make and the conclusions they come to, grow directly out of their life experiences, not simply as individuals, but as members of distinctive social or cultural groups. 

The interview that Emily Bazelon had with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called The Place of Women on the Court in the NY Times July 7, 2009 speaks directly to this point. What is relevant and revealing were Justice Ginsburg’s insights on the different perspectives and sensibilities that men and women brought to the court that were specific to their gender as men and women. Read more »