Right-Wing Hate Machine Launches Vicious Campaign of Racist and Sexist Attacks on Sotomayor

Human Rights

This piece was written by by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, Ryan Powers, and Brad Johnson.

The radical right wing has launched a vicious campaign of racist and sexist attacks against Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's selection to replace the retiring Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. Sotomayor's "compelling life story" involves a brilliant legal career after being raised in a South Bronx public housing project by parents who moved from Puerto Rico. Sotomayor graduated from Princeton University summa cum laude, edited the Yale Law Journal, then served as a "fearless and effective" New York City prosecutor and corporate lawyer before being appointed to the bench by President George H. W. Bush in 1992. "Since joining the Second Circuit in 1998, Sotomayor has authored over 150 opinions," only three of which have been overturned by the Supreme Court's conservative majority. During her time as an appeals judge, "her influence has grown significantly." Public reaction to the nomination of the first Latina and third woman to the nation's highest court is "decidedly more positive than negative." Former Bush adviser Mark McKinnon remarked, "If Republicans make a big deal of opposing Sotomayor, we will be hurling ourselves off a cliff." However, "the same right-wing extremists who drove the country into the ground," Salon's Glenn Greenwald writes, "continue to attack Sonia Sotomayor with blatant and ugly stereotypes." Right-wing pundit Pat Buchanan called Sotomayor an "affirmative action candidate," and Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes claimed she "has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously." As hate-radio extremist Glenn Beck described the nomination: "Hey, Hispanic chick lady! You're empathetic ... you're in!"

'Wise Latina Woman'

"[L]ess than 24 hours after President Obama's nomination of Sotomayor," right-wing hate merchants seized on a 2001 speech about her Latina heritage and the courts, calling her "a racist" and a "bigot." In a 2001 speech before the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal's annual symposium, Sotomayor argued that judges' gender and race can influence their decisions on gender and race discrimination cases, saying she "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."

However, she cautioned she owes the parties who appear before her "constant and complete vigilance in checking [her] assumptions, presumptions and perspectives." Pulling out the "wise Latina woman" phrase, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich attacked Sotomayor on his Twitter feed as a "Latina woman racist." "Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist," hate-radio host Rush Limbaugh complained, "and now he's appointed one...to the U.S. Supreme Court." Former Republican House member and anti-immigration extremist Tom Tancredo agreed that Sotomayor "appears to be a racist" and called La Raza the "Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses."

Curt Levey, executive director of Committee for Justice, "a conservative legal group active in judicial nominations," said that "I wonder whether she knows the difference" between being a Puerto Rican advocate -- Sotomayor served on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund in the 1980s -- and being a judge. Some of the racist attacks on Sotomayor are simply absurd. Mark Krikorian of the right-wing Center for Immigration Studies blogged on the National Review's Corner about his outrage over people "[d]eferring" to Sotomayor over the "unnatural pronunciation" of her own name.

'Sort of a Schoolmarm'

Right-wing extremists have also launched vicious attacks on her intelligence, temperament, and demeanor.  Karl Rove, President Bush's "political brain," has led the sexist slurs, claiming that Sotomayor is "not necessarily" smart and has acted "like sort of a schoolmarm" on the Second Circuit. "I'm not really certain how intellectually strong she would be," he opined on Fox News. In the Wall Street Journal, Rove argued she is one of those judges selected "for their readiness to discard the rule of law whenever emotion moves them."

Citing anonymous attacks promoted by the New Republic, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes said that Sotomayor was "not the smartest." The New York Times writes that "to detractors, Judge Sotomayor's sharp-tongued and occasionally combative manner -- some lawyers have described her as 'difficult' and 'nasty' -- raises questions about her judicial temperament and willingness to listen." But a fellow Second Circuit judge, Guido Calabresi, "kept track of the questions posed by Judge Sotomayor and other members of the 12-member court" and found that her "behavior was identical." "Some lawyers just don't like to be questioned by a woman," Judge Calabresi added. "It was sexist, plain and simple."

Republican Senators Step Back

Although Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said that Sotomayor may be subject to the "undue influence" of her race and gender, Republican senators have attempted to distance themselves from the hatred. Even Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), who announced he would vote against Sotomayor's nomination, said, "I think that we should be judging people not on race and gender, or background or ethnicity or a very compelling story."

Some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will conduct hearings on Sotomayor's nomination this summer, have directly denounced the worst invective. Responding to the attacks on Sotomayor calling her "racist," Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told NPR's "All Things Considered," "I think it's terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent." 

"I don't agree with" the "racist" smear, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said recently. "If there are no otherwise disqualifying matters here it appears to me she will probably be confirmed," Hatch told CNN Radio yesterday.

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