Is “Shut Up” Really a Good Argument?

On the question of whether Sotomayor’s statement was racist, one defense I’m seeing is “Shut up.”

Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesperson, responded initially that, “I think it is probably important for anybody involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way they in which they’ve decided to describe any aspects of this impending confirmation.” He does not address her statement directly in any way.

Jill Lawrence at Politics Daily echoes this in an oped piece titled Wise Conservatives Might Want to Stop Calling Sotomayor a Racist:

Do Republicans really want to seem like they’re ganging up on Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina nominee to the Supreme Court, by calling her a racist? If they don’t, somebody had better get the word out, because that seems to be the talking point of the week.

The rest of her oped quotes several conservatives calling Sotomayor’s statement racist, and then giving three paragraphs from the original speech to provide context. She does not, however, address whether the statement is racist or not, and, like Gibbs, seems to be offering the argument that Republicans should just shut up.

As Andrew Klavan notes, this seems to be a common reaction from the left.

Because Sotomayor’s statement should be seen in context, here are the paragraphs that Lawrence quoted, taken from the NYT full text of that speech:

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O’Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, 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.

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.

Again, I have no problem with the idea that one’s experiences affect one’s judgment, but to think that one person’s judgment is better than another based on race and gender is racism and sexism. I would not want a white man on the court that believed his experiences as a white man made his judgment better than a Hispanic woman’s, and I don’t think a white man who made a similar statement would be appointed in this day and age.

Oh, go on.


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