In her now-famous speech at the University of California in 2001, Judge Sonia Sotomayor probably made a political mistake. She spoke the truth.
“Our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions,” she told a law-school forum. “The aspiration to impartiality is just that – it’s an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are, by our experiences, making different choices than others ...”
Her critics have seized on another passage from that speech to label her a “reverse racist,” the oft-quoted line that a “wise Latina woman ... would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male.” That single word “better” has unfortunately obscured the validity of her basic point.
Every one of us makes “different choices” based on our backgrounds, and that’s why diversity is so essential in all of our major institutions – courts and legislatures, classrooms, newsrooms and boardrooms. Strike “better,” as Sotomayor probably will when she testifies before Congress next month. “Different” is more than enough to justify diversity.
This is NOT a question of quotas. It is a question of fairness, of making sure that our institutions accurately reflect America’s full range of priorities and perspectives.
What is most infuriating about Sotomayor’s critics is their unstated but unmistakable assumption that judgments rendered by white men set the standard of impartiality. If women or nonwhites reflect their own life experiences, they are somehow deviating from the norm.