We have seen a couple of commentaries, offered by Blacks, which have been critical of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Before things get out of control, let us simply suggest we stop the madness. By any measure, Judge Sotomayor is qualified to serve on the nation’s high Court and would bring new energy and a fresh perspective to the panel. While a critique of Sotomayor is certainly reasonable and should be expected, we believe the Black community should not fall prey to efforts by some to derail her nomination. In fact, we need to embrace Sotomayor as our “sister” and our opportunity to have someone on the Court who most closely approximates our interests.
Ever since the retirement of Justice Thurgood Marshall we have been at a loss for someone on the Court whose embrace of the Constitution was imbued with an understanding of the historical context of our struggle for equal rights. The appointment of conservative jurist Clarence Thomas by President George H. Bush was a cruel joke, the ultimate “token” appointment of an individual who has the audacity to oppose a policy – affirmative action – of which he is a direct beneficiary. The selection of Thomas was an insult to the legacy of Thurgood Marshall and a deliberate attempt to have a Black person conspire with efforts to dismantle hard fought civil rights gains. Though he is most certainly Black, we have not had the benefit of having an African American who represents the sentiments of most of us on the bench. Thomas is not even a cheap facsimile of Marshall. He is at best a negative imprint.
Along comes the first Black President and he names a Latina as his first nominee to the Supreme Court. Not any Latina but one whose life and career evokes memories of our own struggles and triumphs. It is significant that Sotomayor, like Marshall, was associated with a civil rights legal organization; her with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Marshall, of course, with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Though they traveled divergent paths in their legal careers, both Sotomayor and Marshall were committed to the fulfillment of our nation’s constitutional principles for all people who are denied equal rights. And each came under attack from quarters of this country that will never be satisfied so long as people of color are on the ascendancy.
The Sotomayor nomination should be viewed as our opportunity to fix a wrong with the appointment of Clarence Thomas. We should also use the occasion to forge closer ties with the Latino community, a population with whom we share many similarities and face similar challenges. If we are truly going to be this nation’s majority at some point in a future closer than we can probably imagine, we need to start now by building real alliances. Judge Sotomayor deserves our support and we should be very visible and vocal during the Senate confirmation process. If nothing else, the spectacle of Clarence Thomas’ hearing should motivate us to make our voices heard on Capitol Hill in support of Judge Sotomayor. If we do, we are sure Justice Marshall will be smiling approvingly from his perch on the highest court of all.