“Sotomayor Rose on Merit Alone, Her Allies Say.” So declares the title of a New York Times article, and if you are a modern “liberal,” there is no need to read on; you have the only talking point you need to defend the President’s choice for the Supreme Court against those inclined to see her simply as an Affirmative Action nomination.
Not quite willing to accept this pre-digested assertion without some supporting facts, however, I decided to actually read the article.
The thrust of the Times story is that Sonia Sotomayor emerged from a hardscrabble upbringing in the Bronx housing projects to succeed as an assistant district attorney, corporate lawyer, and federal judge - all without the help of political bosses that is typically required to advance in the New York political machine.
The article focuses on the critical, maturing period of her career from 1984 through 1992. “She rose with remarkably little help from the traditional arbiters of power,” such as Governor Mario Cuomo and Mayor Edward Koch, the Times writes.[Note 1.] Yet this is seemingly contradicted by the very next paragraph, which states that she “found an influential patron in [Manhattan district attorney Robert] Morgenthau” and managed to “catch the eye” of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Furthermore:
Her generational timing, too, was fortuitous. She was an accomplished Latina lawyer at a time when officials sought to diversify the white power structure by promoting more blacks, Latinos and women.
Similarly, when Ms. Sotomayor was recommended by Ellen Conovitz, Governor Cuomo’s appointments secretary, for a position on the board of the New York state mortgage agency Sonyma, Ms. Conovitz said approvingly, “The Cuomo administration sought more blacks, Latinos and women.”
When Judah Gribetz, a lawyer for the judicial search committee of Senator Moynihan, spoke of his selection of Ms. Sotomayor as a worthy candidate to become a federal judge, he said, “If you live in the end of the 20th century, there was nothing incompatible between diversity and excellence. Obviously we were looking for people who were representative, and with the right credentials. She fit the bill.” And later, the Times article states that in submitting an application for a federal judgeship, Ms. Sotomayor found herself in “an almost accidental elevation”:
But familiar patrons made her case and her timing was good. Senator Moynihan had made it clear he wanted more female and minority candidates.[Note 1 again, emphasis mine in all quotes.]
So, if an overtly friendly New York Times article, setting out to make the case that Sonia Sotomayor rose on merit alone, cannot help but mention that at every step of the way her heritage and gender were significant considerations in her advancement, what are we to think of Ms. Sotomayor’s qualifications?
It is apparent that in a worldview that holds “diversity” as a value, for Ms. Sotomayor to “fit the bill” for a judgeship, it means that she has two qualifications: she is a judge, and she is an Hispanic woman - not necessarily in that order. Such “credentials” are blatantly racist and sexist. If the fact of being born Hispanic or female or in the Bronx can be construed as merit, then the very word has lost its meaning and the concept of merit itself is destroyed.
1. “Sotomayor Rose on Merit Alone, Her Allies Say,” The New York Times, 4 Jun 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/05/us/politics/05judge.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=Sotomayor%20Rose%20on%20Merit%20Alone&st=cse .