Friday, May 29, 2009

Late Friday night comparisons

I hope people are paying attention to the steam shooting from the ears of the bloviating Right (rounded up and soundly derided here) about Judge Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court and remember it during the next job cycle when they are tempted to chalk up the success of one or another candidate (or their own lack of it) to race or gender.

--STBJD

Somewhat non-philosophical postscript: The usual Leftish suspects are having a field day calling bullshit on the Right.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would have thought that the conservative opposition to Sotomayor will center on stuff she's said like this:

“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."
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/us/15judge.html


Care to defend that steaming pile of racism and sexism?

(Seriously, step back and think about how you'd lose your mind if a conservative nominee had said that, perhaps switching "white male" and "Latina woman.")

Soon-to-be Jaded Dissertator said...

Care to defend a solitary sentence taken from a larger speech without any idea of the context?

Nah; not going to play that game. Nor will touch your counterfactual. But, these games are kinda fun, to be honest:

Open up the book nearest to you, pick a random sentence out of it, and try to defend it without reading anything else. Then, after doing that, think about how you'd defend it after switching out the nouns of the sentence with other, seemingly opposing types of things.

Like I said fun, but practically uninformative about the actual import and content of the sentence.

Anonymous said...

Way to go, Soon-to-be Jaded Dissertator!! ... I think that you have a promising future awaiting you as the conscience of the politically conservative community!

Anonymous said...

STBJD,
>>Care to defend a solitary sentence taken from a larger speech without any idea of the context?>>

I've read the whole speech, and I can't find any context that explains how this comment fails to be sexist and racist. In fact, as far as I can tell, the context only makes it clear that she really meant what she said.

If you think otherwise, please enlighten me. How is her comment not a steaming pile of racism and sexism?

Anonymous said...

Seriously, step back and think about how you'd lose your mind if a conservative nominee had said that, perhaps switching "white male" and "Latina woman.If you read the entire speech, the "wise Latina" phrase is playing on the maxim attributed to Justice O'Connor (that a wise man and woman would reach the same conclusions) with which she disagrees and she is clearly in context expressing the hope a judge who has experienced discrimination personally will come to a better conclusion. (You can read the opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson and see a good example of a justice being limited by his own experience when he argues that segregation surely won't bother the black man.) She goes on to say that she thinks people of all backgrounds can educate themselves about the experiences of other people, but that it is a hard task and not a lot of judges put in the effort.

You might disagree, but it's hardly a racist or sexist position. And whatever her experiences, they haven't lead her to rule unquestioningly for minorities or women in discrimination cases. So there doesn't seem to be a good reason to take her statement as belying a racist or sexist judicial philosophy.

It's hard to say whether anyone would be shocked or horrified if a white male argued that his own experiences affected his view of the law. It would depend on what he said. One might even find it remarkably self-aware, as the man in question wouldn't be assuming that his experiences were irrelevant or universal or the objective standard. In any case, it would depend on the entirety of what he said and the context in which it was said, just as it does for Judge Sotomayor.

Anonymous said...

>>If you read the entire speech, the "wise Latina" phrase is playing on the maxim attributed to Justice O'Connor (that a wise man and woman would reach the same conclusions) with which she disagrees and she is clearly in context expressing the hope a judge who has experienced discrimination personally will come to a better conclusion.>>

Yes, that's exactly right. The context makes it clear that Sotomayor meant what she said, namely that she would hope that a Latina will (more often than not) come to a better judicial conclusion than a white male.

This is racist and sexist.


>>You might disagree, but it's hardly a racist or sexist position.>>

Really? It's not racist to say that people of a certain gender and a certain race will reach superior judicial conclusions? On the contrary: it doesn't get more racist or sexist, as far as I can tell.

Anonymous said...

Nicely said, 4:54.
I think that what Sotomayor said is probably true, and certainly not racist.

Anonymous said...

No anon 10:39, it isn't racist or sexist. Her point was that the diverse experiences she has had, which were partly the result of having minority status in her culture, provide her with a more diverse perspective than her white male colleagues, and that perspective is relevant to some kinds of court cases. She even explicitly says that people without minority status can come to have the same perspective as those with it, but that it takes time and effort, and doesn't tend to happen in practice. If the culture were largely controlled by latinas, a white male could make the same argument, so it is not racist or sexist. It is not, in fact, much different than saying that learning French might provide someone who only knows English with a wider perspective. This may or may not be true, but seeing it as a statement that discriminates against people who don't speak French would just be willfully silly.

(She does, in an earlier section, mention the possibility that physiological differences could result in differences in judging, but does not, in that section, come to any conclusions that one or the other physiology would result in better judging, so she is also not being sexist in that case.)

Anonymous said...

It's not racist to say that people of a certain gender and a certain race will reach superior judicial conclusions? In the specific cases (not all, not in every case, and not, as we'll see, every Latina or every white man) she mentions where race or gender discrimination is the subject, to hope that one will be informed by one's own experiences? (We should also note that hoping that someone will make the right decision is not the same as saying that that person always will.) And when she acknowledges that it is possible, though difficult, for a white male judge to educate himself concerning these matters? When she concludes by stressing the need for reflection and self-knowledge concerning her own background and in what ways it might be relevant to her jurisprudence?

I think it's a stretch to read this as racist or sexist if we mean anything significant by those words, yes. 'Some people who have had different experiences and take the time to reflect on this will have better jurisprudence in cases concerning those experiences than other people who haven't had those experiences and haven't taken the time to educate themselves' is pretty weak evidence of being a racist, and crucially, the racist and sexist charge isn't borne out by her jurisprudence. Which is where one would hope that the conservative opposition would sensibly focus.

(And it's not hard to imagine an innocuous example with a white judge as the speaker.)

Anonymous said...

10:39 is making an important confusion that needs to be pointed out. Sotomayor isn't saying that the fact that she is a certain race or gender gives her a special perspective. She is saying that having certain experiences gives her a special perspective, and that these experiences tend to be had by people of a certain race or gender. It's a rather obvious and uncontroversial point. Sometimes our experiences render us able to see things that people without those experiences cannot see.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:39 writes:

"Yes, that's exactly right. The context makes it clear that Sotomayor meant what she said, namely that she would hope that a Latina will (more often than not) come to a better judicial conclusion than a white male.

"This is racist and sexist."

Bad inference. It's not racist and sexist if it is a result of sound reasoning about real differences between the average white male and the average Latina woman. I think some of the other people on here have illustrated what that reasoning might look like. So, if you want to sustain your claim, you'll need to show how such reasoning is spurious.

Anonymous said...

This blog is getting boring. Any gossip about the job market??

zombie said...

"I would hope..."
Doesn't sound to me like a statement of fact on Sotomayor's part. If I said "I would hope that Obama will be a better president than his predecessor," I am expressing my desire, my wish, my hope that it will be the case. It may or may not be true that I believe it IS the case. I would also be inclined to say that "I would hope that an intelligent biracial man (a "mutt like me") with the richness of his experiences would make better decisions as president, and be more compassionate than a stupid white boy with the riches of his daddy." Is that racist? It is surely not sexist. Classist?
"wise Latina woman" and "richness of her experiences" are two ways of saying that diversity matters b/c it shapes who we are and how we view the world. It is a denial of the notion that there is some "objective" legal standard or POV from which judges make their decisions -- a view from nowhere, as Nagel would call it. It is an acknowledgment of the subjectivity of our experiences. What is it like to be a Latina woman? Not what it's like to be a bat, or a white man.

sweater said...

The relevant sentence is strangely constructed. And it feels odd to pick on this, because I think Sotomayor is a straightforwardly good nominee, that she's neither a racist nor a sexist, and that she should be confirmed.

But it is a weird sentence. I want to read the "with..." clause in a minimal way--as specifying "wise Latina woman." As in: "a wise Latina woman with rich experiences..." Understood that way, who could possibly disagree with the apodosis? (especially if you deny that the white male in question lacks one of the variables: he is either not wise or he lacks rich experiences).

But the problem is that the construction:

"a [noun phrase] with her/his/its [modifier]..."

makes it sound like you can somehow deduce or infer the modifier from the noun phrase. I think that's how the sentence reads most naturally. A parallel might be:

"a wise philosophy student with the rigor of her training would [...] make better arguments than a lawyer who hasn't had that training."

The problem is, being a wise Latina woman doesn't entail the presence of the relevant rich experiences. Assuming the white male isn't wise, I readily grant a wise Latina woman would "reach a better conclusion." And assuming the white male and the Latina woman are both wise, but only the former has rich experiences, I grant that the former would "reach a better conclusion." But I can't give her the (seemingly) hasty and exclusive move from "being a wise Latina woman" to "having rich experiences."

I'm a white male, and I suspect Judge Sotomayor is wiser than me. But, adjusting for age, I won't concede so quickly that she's had richer experiences. I mean, MAYBE she has, but she'd need to show us that, rather than make it sound like it follows directly from the fact that she's a wise Latina woman. Otherwise it's essentialist in a pretty insidious way.

To bring it back around to petty but familiar territory, it reminds me of (on my reading) Leiter-esque assumptions like (preserving punctuation):

"I would hope that a wise NYU PhD with the richness of her graduate education would more often than not write better philosophy papers than a UC Riverside student who didn't go to that school."

SEE--it also implies that the UCR/white man hasn't had rich education/experiences. She didn't say "...than a white man without rich experiences," but rather: "...who hasn't lived THAT [Latina] life." Which is more like: "...without going to THAT university." The sentence draws a direct--and rather exclusive--inference from being a WLW and having rich experiences.

(Also note: it's really not like being bilingual. If you compare being monolingual and being bilingual, it follows pretty directly that the bilingual person has a broader perspective on questions concerning the languages. But, mutatis mutandis, her claim is rather more like a comparison between knowing English AND French vs. knowing English and NOT knowing French. Needless to say, you could know English, NOT know French, but know lots of other languages--or just one other language--besides French.)

Anonymous said...

sweater, Judge Sotomayor isn't a scholar of linguistic implicature. She's a federal judge who worked her way from a single-parent home in a Bronx housing project to being the first Latina nominated for the Supreme Court. I don't know what your life has been like, but I'd bet good money her experiences are richer, in the relevant sense, than your average American. I think it is an embarrassment to our profession that anyone has taken any issue with STBJD's original post. Anyone who did had better be a troll, because otherwise you have some serious character issues to work out.