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.