MINNEAPOLIS – (Mint Press) – Raised in a housing project in the tough neighbourhoods of the Bronx, Sonia Sotomayor has overcome racial profiling and the limitations of class to achieve the unexpected — Sonia Sotomayor is the first Hispanic Justice and the third woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Writing her autobiography, “My Beloved World,” she reveals the emotional strengths to overcome having an alcoholic father and childhood diabetes and displays her passion to fight for equality during her years at Princeton University. During her short time at the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor has voted on several controversial issues.
Mint Press had a conversation with Justice Sotomayor and scoured available reports by others to help shed light on the thinking behind the Court’s decisions on issues related to race, gender and discrimination.
On issues of affirmative action
Mint Press: Do you believe affirmative action is more justified in education than in employment? Or do you think it makes no difference?
Sotomayor: “The question of whether affirmative action is necessary in our society and what form it should take is always, first, a legislative determination, in terms of legislative or government employer determination, in terms of what issue it is addressing and what remedy it is looking to structure.
“The Constitution promotes and requires the equal protection of law of all citizens in its 14th Amendment. To ensure that protection, there are situations in which race in some form and equality in some form, must be considered and the courts have recognized that.
“Equality requires effort but it is firmly my hope that race in our society won’t be needed to be considered in any situation.”
Conceding that she was a beneficiary of affirmative action in higher education, and she doesn’t really know why her view is so different from that of her colleague, Justice Clarence Thomas:
“As much as I know Clarence, admire him and have grown to appreciate him,” she says, “I have never, ever focused on the negative of things. I always look at the positive. And I know one thing: If affirmative action opened the doors for me at Princeton, once I got in, I did the work. I proved myself worthy. So, I don’t look at how the door opened.” — National Public Radio report
On the issue of women
MP: Being the first Latina Supreme Court justice and only the third woman to be appointed, can women really make a difference?
Sotomayor: “By ignoring our differences as women or men of color, we do a disservice both to the law and society. I accept that my experiences as women and a person of color affect decisions. The aspiration to impartiality is just that — it’s an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are our experiences and so making different choices than others.
“My gender and national origins may and will make a difference in my judgment. Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a White male who hasn’t lived that life.”
In a 2011 Supreme Court case, Sotomayor’s views on women and gender imbalance was tested by a Wal-Mart case. Sotomayor voted to back plaintiffs in their suit against Wal-Mart, on behalf of 1.6 million female employees, seeking punitive damages and back pay owing to Wal-Mart’s alleged discrimination.
Saying in court, “I agree this class should not have been certified, but such a class might have proper under Rule 23(b)(3) seeking money damages. The Court should not have ruled on the class at this time, but rather remanded the issue for consideration and decision. The district court found evidence that 70 percent of hourly employees are female, but only 33 percent of managers. That, with other evidence, could support a common question, necessary for the resolution of all class members’ cases, that corporate culture and lack of formal standards or training for employment decisions may have led to discrimination.”
On the issue of race
In June 29, 2009, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that White firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions by the city of New Haven due to their race. The case focused on mostly White firefighters losing out when a promotion exam was scrapped because no Blacks scored well enough to advance. The decision overturned a lower court ruling supported by then-Federal Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
Question: Why did the Supreme Court overturn your lower court case?
Sotomayor: The Supreme court’s ruling recognize, as I do, the hardship that the firefighters experienced. The issue before the court was a different one, and the one that the district court addressed was what decision the decision-makers made, not what people behind the scenes wanted the decision-makers to make. (On the Issue)
Her record as a Supreme Court Justice
Sonia Sotomayor’s record as a judge in lower courts as well as in the Supreme Court is consistent in that it demonstrates her desire to uphold laws that protect the rights of those who face discrimination due to their race or gender. In a recent court case, Sotomayor challenged trial attorney about the racist remarks in court.
During a court hearing, Sotomayor took offense when the assistant U.S. attorney said, “You’ve got African-Americans, you’ve got Hispanics, you’ve got a bag full of money … Does that tell you — a light bulb doesn’t go off in your head and say, This is a drug deal?”
By appointing Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama has changed the philosophy of the Supreme Court. Sotomayor introduces the possibility of judges expressing abuses in the system, and through personal experience, looking at the issues of race and gender to provide an alternate perspective.
With the Supreme Court currently discussing the issue of gay marriage, Sotomayor championing equality and her own experiences of discrimination may turn the votes in favor. Whether the U.S. Supreme Court looks at reproductive rights, affirmative action and race and gender discrimination to electoral campaigning and freedom of information, the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor means there will be a difference in the way the U.S. Supreme Court reviews the law.
Sotomayor voting patterns are:
Narrow 5-4 Supreme Court ruling. Sotomayor votes in favor with Chief Justice John Roberts. Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.
Supreme Court 5-4 decision, upholding White firefighters race discrimination case — Sotomayor voted against the firefighters.
Supreme Court 5-4 ruling in favor of Wal-Mart, frustrating the plaintiffs, who were trying to include as many as 1.6 million females in the sex discrimination case. Sotomayor voted against Wal-Mart.
Second Amendment issue on rights to bear arms in District of Columbia v. Heller
Supreme Court 5-4 struck down Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban in 2008.
More recently, the Supreme Court also upheld the individual’s right to bear arms in a similar case, McDonald v. Chicago in 2010. Sotomayor voted in favor of ban.