Correcting The Record: Supreme Court Justices Recognize that Their Background Can Inform Their Judging, Just as Judge Sotomayor Does
RHETORIC: Today, Judiciary Committee Republicans suggested that Judge Sotomayor’s comments that her gender and ethnicity can inform how she views cases before her mean that she will not judge fairly.
JUDGE SOTOMAYOR said today, “I do not believe that any racial, ethnic or gender group has an advantage in sound judging. I do believe that every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge regardless of their background or life experiences.”
Current and former Supreme Court justices across the ideological spectrum have touted the impact their unique backgrounds bring to their judicial decision-making.
JUSTICE O’CONNOR: “We’re all creatures of our upbringing. We bring whatever we are as people to a job like the Supreme Court. We have our life experiences. For example, for me it was growing up on a remote ranch in the West. If something broke, you’d have to fix it yourself. The solution didn’t always have to look beautiful, but it had to work. So that made me a little more pragmatic than some other justices. I liked to find solutions that would work.” (The Daily Beast, June 29, 2009)
JUSTICE ALITO: “[W]hen a case comes before me involving, let’s say, someone who is an immigrant—and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases—I can’t help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn’t that long ago when they were in that position. . . . When I look at those cases, I have to say to myself—and I do say to myself—you know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. . . . And that goes down the line. When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.” (Senate Confirmation Hearings, Jan. 11, 2006)
JUSTICE THOMAS: “Since coming from Savannah, from Pin Point . . . my journey has not only been a journey geographically, it has also been one demographically. It has been one that required me to at some point touch on virtually every aspect, every level of our country, from people who couldn’t read and write to people who were extremely literate, from people who had no money to people who were very wealthy. So, what I bring to this Court, I believe, is an understanding and the ability to stand in the shoes of other people across a broad spectrum of this country.” (Senate Confirmation Hearings, Sept. 12, 1991)
JUSTICE SCALIA: “I hope there is no doubt about my commitment to . . . a society without discrimination. . . . [I]f the notion there is that I am hostile to the laws that seek to eliminate that, that is simply not true. . . . [I]n a way, having any animosity toward racial minorities, in my case would be a form of self-hate. I am a member of a racial minority myself, suffered, I expect, some minor discrimination in my years; nothing compared to what other racial groups have suffered. But it does not take a whole lot to make you know that it is bad stuff. . . .” (Senate Confirmation Hearings, Aug. 5, 1986)
Judge Sotomayor has pledged never to let the personal perspectives she brings to her job stand in the way of judicial fairness and neutrality.
JUDGE SOTOMAYOR: “I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires.” (Speech, University of California, Berkeley, 2001)