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Sotomayor and Equality

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Yesterday’s affirmative action case is a close question, but Sotomayor’s dissent is perhaps her strongest work yet.

In addition, as Liptak notes, Sotomayor also had an excellent response to Roberts’s smarmy, ahistorical Parents Involved tautology:

We have seen this reasoning before. See Parents Involved, 551 U. S., at 748 (“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race”). It is a sentiment out of touch with reality, one not required by our Constitution, and one that has properly been rejected as “not sufficient” to resolve cases of this nature.

Race matters. Race matters in part because of the long history of racial minorities’ being denied access to the political process. And although we have made great strides, “voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that.”

Race also matters because of persistent racial inequality in society—inequality that cannot be ignored and that has produced stark socioeconomic disparities. See Gratz, 539 U. S., at 298–300 (Ginsburg, J., dissenting) (cataloging the many ways in which “the effects of centuries of law-sanctioned inequality remain painfully evident in our communities and schools,” in areas like employment, poverty, access to health care, housing, consumer transactions, and education); Adarand, 515 U. S., at 273 (Ginsburg, J., dissenting) (recognizing that the “lingering effects” of discrimination, “reflective of a system of racial caste only recently ended, are evident in our workplaces, markets, and neighborhoods”).

And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, “No, where are you really from?”, regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.”

In my colleagues’ view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination. This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. It is this view that works harm, by perpetuating the facile notion that what makes race matter is acknowledging the simple truth that race does matter. [Some cites omitted]

Serwer has more.

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