Sotomayor’s Minnesota connection

The conservatives’ rallying cry against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor uses a 2001 speech with this quote as its underpinning:


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.

The meaning seems clear: It is easier to relate to something you know, than something you don’t. What involvement that fact plays with the matter of jurisprudence is for the politicians to debate and decide.

But Sotomayor used the women of the Minnesota Supreme Court to make her point in the same speech:


…three women on the Minnesota (Supreme) Court with two men dissenting agreed to grant a protective order against a father’s visitation rights when the father abused his child. The Judicature Journal has at least two excellent studies on how women on the courts of appeal and state supreme courts have tended to vote more often than their male counterpart to uphold women’s claims in sex discrimination cases and criminal defendants’ claims in search and seizure cases. As recognized by legal scholars, whatever the reason, not one woman or person of color in any one position but as a group we will have an effect on the development of the law and on judging.

Sotomayor’s observations aren’t that different from those expressed many times in Minnesota, where women have been appointed to the state Supreme Court with fair regularity since Rosalie Wahl was first appointed by Gov. Rudy Perpich..

Squint your eyes a little bit and the reaction to Sotomayer’s eight-year-old speech could be Minnesota in the ’70s reacting to Wahl.

In a 1991 New York Times article, justices Wahl and Esther Tomljanovich acknowledge the value of a different prospective on the bench.


“I don’t think men are going to have to run for the hills, but there is definitely a woman’s perspective,” said Justice Tomljanovich, recalling past humiliations she had experienced as a woman in her personal life.

Is that sexist? Or reality?

The view that a woman’s perspective has a place on the bench is no longer seriously debated.

  • GregS

    If what we need is a greater array of personal experience on the bench rather than judges who can empathize with people from all walks of life, we will have to expand the bench itself to include someone from every possible walk in life.

    So, are we also to do this also with the media? Like for instance only hire conservative for the next twenty years to ensure that the half of the country not represented in the media, will be represented?

    Should we do this in academia also?

    Didn’t we learn this lesson with Clarence Thomas?

    That it is not important what race someone is, it is only important that they think and act the way a person of their race is expected to think and act?

  • BJ

    @GregS – Love the comment. If someone does not fit our prejudgment, based on whatever factors we might bring to the table, what do we do? Affective prejudice is something everyone has, but to be aware of it and not let it affect choices we make in the end.

    Once were are past the stage of counting then we might be at the stage where prejudice is a thing of the past. For example when I was in Jr High and High School we had a lot of ‘first women’ or ‘ second women’ things happening. Today, while this Supreme Court nominee would be the third women, she is also a ‘first hispanic’. I think if this was the third hipanic and third women we might not even be talking about those.

    I think we all hope that the prejudgment we all have lessens so that the effect is best outcome for eveyone.

  • bsimon

    Thanks for the link to the original speech. Judge Sotomayor addresses the empathy question in subsequent paragraphs to ‘wise latina’ comment:

    ” 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… 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.”

    Sounds like a good approach for a judge to take.

  • GregS

    …three women on the Minnesota (Supreme) Court with two men dissenting agreed to grant a protective order against a father’s visitation rights when the father abused his child.

    This is a scary example to cite. I hope it is not an indication of Ms. Sotomayor’s direction on the US Supreme Court.

    We need to understand a few things:

    1) Temporary Protection orders are issued on the basis of accusations and require no more proof than the testimony of one person.

    2) While it is common to deny father’s visitation because of past (substanitive) accusations of abuse, it is POLICY to reunite mothers with their children even after CONVICTION of child abuse.

    At least in this area of the law, empathy for women trumps empathy for children.

    I guess that is because no children sit on the bench.

  • steve

    why shy away from “la raza”. Everyone knows it is an exclusive “club” not seeking betterment and reparations for wrongs of all but advancing latinos on a racial theme.

    I would like to know if you would mind if, now that whites are not a majority of the population if your approval of a turn to an white english version of a similar “club” called “the race” would be approvable? And dont offer your cool aid about when its translated it means butterflies and rainbows for all people. la raza is a racist organization with some suspicious sounding intentions.

    I smell a world of double standard bigots. Not one white person coud approach the offensive position of rascism sotomayer appears to be part of and so should no others. I want none of it on the bench from hispanics or any other quarter in the US either.

    It is prejudice for all or equality for all? Not prejudice and racism passes for some and indictments of prejudice and racism for others. Either everybody drinks the cool aid or get it out of the room.

    Drop the double speak and address the situation.

    Is this woman a racist or a genderist or both? In the United States, the people have the right to talk and this is the subject and I hope this woman is grilled till all is clear.

    Myself, from her words, I smell a racist subversive.

    Either way I would never want my “white family” to live under her decisions.

    Is she eliminating all white males to a subordinate position of judicial capability when she compares them to herself or other latina queens on the bench because she is a female, a latina or both? Does she reaaly think no white males are capable of rising to her own level of judgement and compassion?

    God help us for such blind racist genderist thinking, I can’t believe we are about to go over this cliff after so much work.

    This sounds like a contrived attempt to start or further racial and gender friction as much aas possible, way to go who ever you are pushing this car onto the tracks as fast as you can. Dont you think you might give this some thought first?

    This is socially dangerous ground to move onto the highest court in the land. I believe I could pick twenty white males from my own community that could yield the compassion and human values to deal with any decision on facts without regard to race, but I dont believe this woman can do that.

    This is Absolutely race baiting politics coupled with gender baiting politics.

    Lets look for a person for the bench that agrees that all races and genders and faiths can produce judgment , compassion and capabilities that can be taken to highest court and all are confident that it is so. Dont settle for a “lets get even” woman for the bench, lets get a “lets get further along in humanity ” person that doesnt make racial judgments from the highest bench.

    Drop the race baiting la raza themes for the supreme court. Or not and continue with race baiting politics.