Sotomayor Nomination: Race to the Right

By Guest Columnist Jun 01, 2009

by Victor Goode, Associate Professor CUNY School of Law Just when we thought that the nation had forgotten about Obama’s Philadelphia speech about race in America we were reminder that there has been a lot of race talk going on of late, but not the thoughtful “dialogue” that the president proposed. With the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court a virtual firestorm has broken out. At first Judge Sotomayor’s nomination seems like a shrewd choice. As a woman she will add gender diversity to the court and as a Latina she will at least partially answer the criticism that the administration had been lax in appointing high-level members of the diverse and largely Democratic leaning Latino community. She has also been a federal judge for the last seventeen years, has written hundreds of opinions, none specifically on abortion and carries a Princeton-Yale Ivy League pedigree equal to any federal judge in the system. But there seems to be one small problem-at least as far as the right is concerned. She believes in equality and has said so as a board member of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and through her membership in The National Council of La Raza. While both of these civil rights organizations are clearly mainstream, in the twisted logic of the right, even advocating for civil rights is itself an act of racism. Former Congressman Tom Tancredo even equated La Raza with the Klu Klux Klan. Statements like these are easy to dismiss as acts of profound ignorance, but they also reflect a calculated effort to use racism as an organizing tool to reinvigorate the Republican Party. They are meant to remind whites that answering the demand for equality might mean a slightly smaller slice of the American pie than race privilege has left many of them used to. As the fight over a number of critical policy issues gets under way, this shot across the bow of the Obama ship of state is just the opening salvo. There will be more. But maybe this furor over Judge Sotomayor’s nomination will help begin the real “race dialogue” that candidate Obama called for. We shall see.