Lott: Many who are judging the judge are guided by fear

By Harold Lott
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POSTED June 5, 2009 12:30 a.m.

As a judge, Sonia Sotomayor’s record has been exemplary. When you look at the facts in this case, only those with personal or political agendas would conclude that race and activism are factors in her decision making.

This is not to say that Sotomayor is perfect. As a human being, she has admitted to having prejudices like all of us, but struggles with them to become a better person and judge.

The facts are clearly laid out in her 11-year 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals career. Sotomayor was involved in about 100-panel decisions on legal issues of race. During the span of this career, she only disagreed with her colleagues in decisions four times.

There was only one case (Gant v. Wallington Bd. Of Educ., 1999) in which she allowed a race discrimination claim to proceed involving a school transfer. In another case (Pappas v. Giuliani, 2002) she disagreed with her colleagues in favor of a white bigot who was fired for distributing racist materials. On two other panels, she rejected district court rulings that agreed that jury selection claims were race-based.

With such a moderate ruling history, I’m confident that this judge’s ruling in the Ricci v. New Haven case involving claims of discrimination by white firemen and one Hispanic fireman will be upheld. However, even if it’s not upheld, her record of a roughly 8 to 1 margin of rejecting discrimination-related claims does not support the vicious labels of “racist” and “activist judge.”

Given Sotomayor’s outstanding credentials and stellar job performance, it begs the question of what all the anger and name-calling are really about? Aside from distracting attention from the real deviants (Dick Cheney and George W. Bush) who disregarded the “rule of law” to achieve political objectives, this kind of unwarranted fault-finding and complaining goes much deeper than mere posturing and filibustering. The attacks against this Obama nominee crossed the line by aiming explicitly at her gender and ethnicity.

Listen, folks, I get the sense of desperation and fear expressed by many conservatives. They are obviously undergoing an identity crisis, which has created strong underlying emotions of fear, fear of being nobody, and even the fear of being irrelevant or extinct. Such powerful emotions are equivalent to the fear of death, given the unprecedented and rapid change taking place. I get that.

However, when these fears are unacknowledged and unchecked, they cause the hard right to seek winning at any cost (“the ends justify the means”), which is irresponsible and dangerous. It’s like a spider cancer whose roots are long and deep and seem impossible to dig up. It’s always lurking, ready to strike, especially since we have elected a black president. The only way to defeat this monster is to collectively rise above it, but the sane voices appear too quiet and, in some cases, totally lacking.

It always amazes me that those who judge unfairly, criticize, and condemn minorities and the poor the most have never spent one full day in an inner-city poor neighborhood in America nor engaged someone from this demographic in a close and honest relationship. Perhaps if they did so, they might have a different perception.

Because of this hypocrisy, too many Americans have been duped into believing that victims are bad guys and those who maintain the status quo are heroes. As a result, we cannot recognize and honor the qualities of someone like Sotomayor as needed and desirable. Anyone with similar mindsets as Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich are not America’s saviors. To seek to exploit the ignorance of facts and then play on the fears generated by ignorance is anti-American and unpatriotic to say the least.

The word “racist” has been misused and abused probably as much as the word “love.” A true racist is consumed with fear and insecurity and sees fundamental differences among races. The “other” is viewed as “the enemy,” which must be destroyed or silenced.

The truth is God did not create “thems” or “others,” and there is no such thing as “fundamental differences” among human beings. If Sotomayor was a racist, her misguided passions would be evident to everyone, given her high profile and in everything she does. But such facts to those who seek to repudiate and vilify her are simply a nuisance. Indeed, there are differences in human behavior, attitude, custom and experiences, but they are circumstantial and incidental.

However, we may dicker about racial heritage and culture; for anyone to read into Sotomayor’s character other than an honest accounting of her rich experiences says more about such critics than about her.

Harold Lott is a Gainesville resident and a frequent columnist.