Who Among Us Is Blindfolded?

by Lori Baynard

You should not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.

(Leviticus 19:15)

Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. You must not be partial in judging: hear out both the small and the great alike.

(Deuteronomy 1:16)

The nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States has sparked a fury of controversy, name-calling, accusations, and race discussions (http://online.wsj.com/video/sotomayor-nomination-stirs-race-controversy/DF772465-159D-4366-A1DD-920A97139AB3.html) that have polarized the discussion of her nomination. Within hours of President Obama's announcement that he had nominated the first Latina woman ever to the highest court of the United States, accusations of her being "a racist" (http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-sotomayor-gop1-2009jun01,0,6441167.story) and "wearing her heritage on her sleeves" surfaced.

The accusations of racism Judge Sotomayor now faces stem from a comment that she made in 2001 when she said, "I 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."  This statement suggests to some that Judge Sotomayor would use her experiences as a Latina woman to reach judicial decisions.

President Obama may have sparked some of the controversy before he even named his nominee when he confessed that he was looking for a nominee who could show judicial empathy. Empathy, many have argued, is not an intelligent way to choose a Supreme Court Judge. According to Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, "the entire concept of the American rule of law is blindfolded justice." He argues that "judges need to set aside personal feelings and make objective rulings on the law and the facts." Empathy by definition is in opposition to "blindfolded justice" because empathy is defined as "the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another."

In order to critically judge the issues before us concerning Judge Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court, we must push past the headlines and the sound clips of the media and begin to look at the judicial record she has demonstrated through her hundreds of judicial decisions. While some people may be afraid that her ethnicity will influence her jurisprudence (http://www.scotusblog.com/wp/judge-sotomayor-and-race-results-from-the-full-data-set/), these fears can be either confirmed or calmed by the close scrutiny of her extensive 17-year career.

As more members of minority groups move into some of the highest offices in the land we most consider our own thoughts about race and ethnicity. In our attempt to have "blindfolded justice" and to produce a "colorblind society," are we really trying to ignore and distance ourselves from the deeper issues that race and ethnicity bring? Do we have a "melting pot mentality" which suggests that peoples' race and identity can melt away and conform to the image of the majority?

While some people fear that Judge Sotomayor's heritage will influence her jurisprudence, I can't help but wonder if we are naïve enough to believe that the other judges' ethnicities, backgrounds, and experiences have not played a significant part in their worldview and have not influenced their jurisprudence. As the faith community, we must lead the dialog that promotes harmony and unity amongst all of the ethnicities and races that make up the people of America. Perhaps the ideas of "blindfolded justice" and a "colorblind society" are our attempt to look away from the fact that America is home to a plethora of races, ethnicities, and heritages that are all equally American.

Lori G. Baynard is a Sider Scholar and an Ayers Scholar at Palmer Theological Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa., where she is pursuing a masters of theological studies in Christian Faith and Public Policy. 

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