The Court’s Impartiality.


My co-blogger Shani just twittered this comment on the confirmation hearings:

The GOP’s roundabout way of saying that a woman of color has to work harder to be objective than a white male does is pissing me off.

What pisses me off is this completely ahistorical sense on part of Republicans that the Supreme Court is and always has been a perfectly just, perfectly impartial institution.  For most of this country’s history, the default perspective on the nation’s highest court has been that of wealthy white men, and accordingly, the court’s rulings have reflected the biases and prejudices of its members.  The court’s Dred Scott ruling, for instance, clearly reflects the fact that a majority of the Court’s members at the time were slaveholders.  Likewise, the Court’s ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson clearly reflects a group of men who had – like most of their peers – internalized a narrative of black inferiority and black “difference.”

That the GOP refuses to acknowledge this obvious fact is extremely troubling, not only because it betrays a (at this point characteristic) disregard for history, but also because it seems to suggest that conservatives see Sotomayor as “defiling” the court with her empathy and her “Latina-ness.”  For conservatives, the Court’s long era of white male dominance was marked by impartiality and fairness.  And now, with the possibility of greater minority representation on the bench, we have to worry about bias and prejudice in the court’s opinions.  This idea  – that minorities will sully the reputation of <insert organization> – isn’t a particularly new one (it colors a lot of the early commentary on the Reconstruction-era South), and it’s incredibly offensive to boot.

6 thoughts on “The Court’s Impartiality.

  1. quadmoniker July 13, 2009 at 5:15 pm Reply

    Yeah, it’s really troubling how many people clearly think of white as being “raceless.” And no one calls them out on it.

  2. Winslowalrob July 13, 2009 at 9:15 pm Reply

    Did the GOP just drop crap about objectivity in the SUPREME COURT? Oy vey.

  3. Winslowalrob July 14, 2009 at 10:38 am Reply

    Speaking of which

    “Two weeks ago, Alito cast the deciding vote in Ricci v. DeStefano, an intensely contested affirmative action case. He did so by ruling in favor of the Italian-American firefighters, finding that they were unlawfully discriminated against, even though the district court judge who heard all the evidence and the three-judge appellate panel ruled against them and dismissed their case. Notably, the majority Supreme Court opinion Alito joined (.pdf) began by highlighting not the relevant legal doctrine, but rather, the emotional factors that made the Italian-American-plaintiffs empathetic.

    Did Alito’s Italian-American ethnic background cause him to cast his vote in favor of the Italian-American plaintiffs? Has anyone raised that question? Given that he himself said that he “do[es] take that into account” — and given that Sonia Sotomayor spent 6 straight hours today being accused by GOP Senators and Fox News commentators of allowing her Puerto Rican heritage to lead her to discriminate against white litigants — why isn’t that question being asked about Alito’s vote in Ricci?”

  4. Soda & Candy July 14, 2009 at 2:26 pm Reply

    Very well said.

    The GOP are LOVING this. They are lapping it up, but it’s completely delusional!

    • Dave July 17, 2009 at 6:36 pm Reply

      “For conservatives, the Court’s long era of white male dominance was marked by impartiality and fairness.”

      I’m conservative (actually more libertarian), and I don’t know anyone that agree with that statement. The Supreme Court is supposed to be impartial and make sure the Legislative and Executive branches follow the Constitution, but they have an agenda and have been activist for many, many years. Look at the past 8 years. The Supreme Court upheld portions of the Patriot Act (invasion of our privacy), in Kelo vs. New London ruled in favor of grossly expanded eminent domain powers, upheld parts of the MacCain campaign finance reform (free speech for everyone unless its political), and gave a safe, middle of the road ruling in Heller vs. DC. If any of those rulings were handed down when the nation was young, the Colonists woud tar and feather the bastards.

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