President Obama Nominates the First Woman of Color to the Supreme Court

hero_weekly_5-23_sa-0310President Obama has just nominated the first woman of color, a Latina, Sonia Sotomayor, ever for the US Supreme Court. It is way past time for this. Only four of the 110 Supreme Court justices ever serving on that high court–which operates much like an unelected legislative body in our system–have not been (mostly elite) white men. Here is the White House report and video.

A DailyKos Diarist, AlRodgers, has some great photos at this link.

Here is some of her personal and civil rights background as listed by Rodgers:

Age 55

► Raised in the Bronxdale Housing project, in the South Bronx, New York

► Die hard New York Yankee Fan!!!

► Her father was a tool-and-die maker, who passed away when she was 9.

► Raised with her brother by single-mother, who was a nurse in a methadone clinic.

► Won scholarship to Princeton University, where she graduated summa cum laude.

► She earned her law degree at Yale, where she was editor of the law journal.

► At 40, she became the youngest judge in the Southern District of New York and the FIRST judge of Puerto Rican descent.

► Divorced; no children.

► Assistant DA for Manhattan from 1979 to 1984; Partner at Pavia & Harcourt from 1984 to 1992.

► U.S. District Court judge in Manhattan in 1992-1998; U.S. Appeals Court judge in Manhattan in 1998-present.

► Board member of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

That last item is very revealing. This PRLDEF organization on which she serves as a board member is one of our leading civil rights organizations.

For example, they have been working very hard to deal with the discrimination against Latino workers and immigrants that we have blogged about several times in recent months. See here, for example:

LatinoJustice PRLDEF has warned Mahopac Town Supervisor Kenneth Schmitt that his attempts to initiate a program which would authorize local police to arrest Latino day laborers on public sidewalks could lead to a costly lawsuit.

Or here:

Latinos in Plainfield, NJ won a major legal victory when a Federal judge dismissed a claim alleging that renting apartments to undocumented immigrants constitutes unlawful harboring. Attorneys from LatinoJustice PRLDEF filed an Amicus Brief in the case on behalf of Latino residents of several rental communities in Plainfield managed by Connolly Properties, Inc. There have been mounting tensions in Plainfield over its growing immigrant population, including a series of beatings and robberies targeting Latinos.

It will be very interesting to watch how conservatives and Republicans deal with this matter. Attacks on her will alienate not only much of Latino/Hispanic America, but also much of the Latino world outside the US. As well as most progressives of all backgrounds. What is your take on this excellent nomination?


Southern studies has an interesting discussion of the potential significance of this nomination for voting rights, given Sotomayor’s opposition to attempts to keep voters of color out of the voting booth:

FELON DISENFRANCHISEMENT: Judge Sotomayor’s biggest voting rights case has likely been Hayden v Pataki. In this 2006 case in the 2nd Circuit, ex-felon Joseph “Jazz” Hayden brought a challenge under the Voting Rights Act against New York’s law banning ex-felons from voting. Civil rights advocates had mobilized around the case, saying felon disenfranchisement laws showed a clear history of racial discrimination. The [appellate court’s] majority dismissed the case, but Judge Sotomayor dissented, saying the issue of discrimination was actually quite simple, as SCOTUSBLOG reports: “[Sotomayor] opined that the issue was actually much simpler than the majority and concurring opinions would suggest: the VRA “applies to all ‘voting qualifications,'” and – in her view – the state law “disqualifies a group of people from voting.” “These two propositions,” she concluded, “should constitute the entirety of our analysis.”

There is also a good detailed discussion on SCOTUSBLOG about her qualifications as revealed in her many court decisions.


The nomination has gotten lots of white supremacist types into an assassination mode, as an ad was put into a paperin Pennsylvania to that effect. Other stuff like this too::

“Unfortunately, the attitude of the person who placed the ad is too prevalent in Pennsylvania,” said Michael Morrill, the executive director of Keystone Progress. “In the last few days we’ve gotten emails calling the president ‘chimp’ and the n-word after he nominated Judge Sotomayor. It makes it very difficult to organize around issues when the opposition to the president’s policies is so racially charged. ”

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Update three: More commentary from our blogger, José A. Cobas:

I find the discussion of Sotomayor’s nomination in the white-dominated media replete with absurdity. Suggesting that Cardozo belongs in this discussion is nonsense. Cardozo was a Sephardic Jew whose family lived in Portugal for a time. [They migrated later, directly from England.] It was not unusual for Jews in the Iberian Peninsula to take Portuguese or Spanish surnames. Cardozo’s self-identity was Jewish. He was appointed to the “Jewish” seat in the Supreme Court that Felix Frankfurter had vacated. As Rubén Rumbaut put it, to suggest that Cardozo was Hispanic makes as much sense as saying that the last baseball player to hit .400 was Hispanic. (Ted Williams’ mother was from Mexico.) White elites have been very diligent in protecting the boundaries of the white racial category. Their casual use of “non-white” racial categories is simply a reflection of the fact that in the U.S. racial world the difference between whites and every other racial group is where the action is. The identity of the “other than white” masses is inconsequential.


  1. Aside from this choice being a historical milestone in several ways, I also think it’s politically astute. Regarding your closing query about how Republicans will react to her, I suspect Obama and his people know that the Republicans will have to be careful. As members of a party that’s increasingly known as far too white, they probably won’t want to alienate Latin@/Hispanic Americans by challenging her in ways that seem too harsh. In fact, while a lot of observers anticipate noisy confirmation hearings, I think there’s a good chance that she’ll encounter little more than a speed-bump or two.

  2. On second thought, though, maybe not. I find David Silbey’s prognosis almost as likely:
    The GOP is going to go after Sotomayor hard during the confirmation. They can’t not. It’s in their DNA, it’s too attractive a way further to rile up the base, and Supreme Court picks have simply become highly-partisan and politicized moments. And they’re going to do it in all the ham-fisted and seemingly racist ways at which the modern GOP excels. This is a red meat moment for the insane wing of the Republican Party and they are certainly not going to avoid chowing down.

  3. Jeff B.

    OK, seriously, can we stop with this absurd “people of color” tag. Everyone has “color.” That’s just a racist statement that has been internalized just as much as racism has.

  4. Well, Jeff. First, we’d have to come up with another word for “white” in white people. I suggest pink. Or, actually peach has always worked better for me.

    And if you find my response absurd and ridiculous, please don’t take it as I sign that I think your suggestion is absurd and ridiculous. Cause. I actually find it absurb, ridiculous, and a bit offensive.

    But, hey. Who I am? Just the Number One amongst K States, so take it for what it’s worth. And that would be a lot.

  5. Seattle in Texas

    Jeff, in thinking about your post above, I found myself come to a pause just a bit ago as I was doing some work and came across the term “Students of Color” in a subheading in a piece of scholarly work this person has worked on for a long time. I understand the point you are trying to make, but for now it is the term scholars in a variety of different disciplines use, as well as outside of academia. What alternative would you suggest? And how would your alternative address racism and associated inequalities, while not reinforcing racism in different sorts of ways or run the risk of internalizing contrary concepts, etc.? And how can it be done with out falling into the pitfalls of the colorblind racism(s)?

  6. Seattle, I don’t quite see how “people of color” does anything of the things Jeff is, I guess, claiming does, ie reinforcing racism in different sorts of ways, etc. To some extent, I’m open to hearing thoughts and concerns. But more than that, it seems like another quite of “reverse racism” to me. It’s not a term that talks about one specific group of people, ie African Americans, Amerindians, etc and so on. It refers to everyone but white people, and think that’s what’s concerning Jeff. The exclusion of white people. Though, yes, I could be wrong.

  7. Joe

    Yes, the problem is that we do not have a good collective term for folks who are now white. “minority” does not work for these folks now, as in many places they are the majority. And “nonwhite” defines them only as opposite of white. At least, people of color has a positive spin of sorts. We could call them simply the majority people, since they make up 80 percent of the world’s population! Or even “first world” peoples…..?

  8. Joe Author

    Thanks, Jeremy. This kind of mock Spanish signals that whites hold deep stereotypes of Spanish speakers, and Latinos generally, in their white racist framing of society. Jane Hill has a great book on the Language of White Racism, that explains this well. We will doubtless see a lot more of it as this society grows more diverse in its population…

  9. Seattle in Texas

    No1KState–I think so too. I understand the argument made by the folks who endorse the colorblind ideology and only to a very short degree think there is some merit. I do think that by referring to the world in a racialized way, it necessarily reinforces racism and negative outcomes, even if unintended–not to say that it cannot or does not bring for positive consaquences and outcomes (but the exact same holds true in the colorblind worlds with relation to negative outcomes and consaquences even if unintended…because issues of racism are not addressed for what they are and so forth). If there weren’t any racism, then in all reality racialized terms simply would not be used anywhere and among anybody. I think using racialized terms is also problematic when they arouse negative stereotypes–but may this not be inevitable among white folks? Then how often is a particular term or phrase used, then later to be determined as a racist one? Whose to say this will not happen with the phrase “people of color” eventually? Playing devils advocate here on the last point–but 50, 75, 100, 150 years from now, what is today and the language used going to look like then?

    And a problem I have with racialized terms in general is that it is almost always the privileged who determine what they should be. Sometimes there are terms that oppressed groups would rather be referenced to with deep reasoning even if they do arouse negative stereotypes, yet their voices are ignored. I know oppressed groups do not wish to have their racialized identities ignored or made invisible merely for the convenience of the white mind and conscious, because there is a specific history that is behind them, and linked with their location in space and time as human beings in a world of suffering they have to face on a daily basis as a result of that very history tied to white supremacy. With that, some folks and groups hold onto a term that was used against them and reflect it right back to white society and it makes white society uncomfortable. There are two that immediate comes to mind and the “N” word is not one of them. So white society has to come up with terms they are comfortable with and terms they feel are politically correct, so they do not appear as racist or appear antiracist. So, racialized language I question a lot and question, “for whom” is this language for? And for what purpose? I don’t know if that makes any sense….

    So I see obvious problems with the whole colorblind thing. I believe Dr. King’s vision of a colorblind society was way ahead of today…I know it was. But white society wants to skip the step of confronting the past and ignore the current racist practices carried out today and just say, “heh, we live in a post-racial society. Racism is a thing of the past., etc.” They want to keep their privilege invisible too. They rely on making donations of various sorts to the “less privileged” to make them feel better about themselves. In that way as well as others, the contemporary colorblind ideals reinforces white supremacy–the flip side, as I see it.

    On the otherhand, using racialized language has problems too in terms of trying to bring forth a non-racialized society in that when racial language is being used socially constructed conceptions of human beings as being often “racialized” by some type of biological reasoning is reinforced for many. That’s a whole different discussion. But I don’t know an answer to the questions I asked Jeff, who seemed to have them since he made the request he did. What I do know, is that the colorblind lens doesn’t work and will continue to fail, probably for many generations to come. Thus, for the time being and probably for quite some time in the future, especially in the U.S., racialized language has a place to addressed racial inequalities and injustices. And there has to be racialized terms that specifically leave whites out–just as the term “white” specificially leaves people of color out. Why is that okay? I don’t understand why Jeff would not equally object to doing away with the term “white” for white people. If he comes back, perhaps he can provide some insight. Anyway….

    So with that, I was curious what alternative to “people of color” Jeff had in terms of addressing racial inequality and racism, since he seems to be strongly advocating the colorblind ideology. I think Joe’s suggestions are interesting, though still agree that “people of color” at least has a positive spin…. Unless it doesn’t for white people? Like what comes up in their minds when they hear that term? Hollywood filled negative stereotypes of various groups of color all at once? I don’t know….

  10. Seattle – I followed you logic and understand your point. I agree with what you have to say. In my experience, though, complaints about terms like “people of color” usually boil down to propping up white privilege. So, I’ve recently come to dismiss the question. I don’t dismiss it out of hand. If Jeff or anyone else has something of substance to add to the “debate,” I’m more than ready to listen. But more often than not, it’s like you said. White Americans want to by-pass confronting, and especially repairing, history, or changing present racist behavior, and jump right to the “We Are the World” part. Which I find interesting cause it comes from even white Christians who should know that atonement comes with sacrifice. It seems like they feel they’re entitled to forgiveness; they just want cheap grace.
    But anyway. To the extent that one wants to move forward to a world beyond racism, I get the point. But, my question is, do they really want to get to a point where the color of someone’s skin or their name or gender, etc won’t have a negative impact on their lives? Or, are they just ready to stop talking about it? From what I’ve witnessed, it’s usually the latter.

  11. Jeff B.

    No1KState – peach and brown, to me, are more accurate than “black and white.” It’s probably safe to say most people fall within the extremes of “black” and “white.”

    So are you trying to tell me that my saying everyone has color is absurd and false? Is “white” not a color?

    Instead of using “white” and “black,” I would be more specific in using terms such as “Anglo-American,” etc., or “non Anglo-American,” etc., instead of really vague terminology as “black” and “white.”

    And everyone’s going to find something offensive, so you can’t please everybody. That’s life. But you cannot disagree that “white” is not a color.

    Just because things and ideas have been internalized or accepted doesn’t mean its necessarily right.

  12. No, I’m not saying that the idea that everyone has a color is absurb. I’m saying your argument that we shouldn’t use “people of color” as term absurb. Read over my comment. What I suggested is probably most offensive about the term “people of color” is that it leaves white people completely out of the conversation. Necessarily, you can’t have black without white; and Europeans didn’t call themselves white until they came across darker complected peoples. And sure, these same Europeans are the ones who invented the term “colored,” but I’m not entirely sure they came up with the term “people of color” specifically for dehumanizing other people.
    So, my argument is that what people, maybe you maybe not you, find offensive is it’s exclusion of white people. And who do you suggest as an alternative? Anglo or nonAnglo. Yeah. Way to include white people, make them the focus of the discussion. Despite the fact that Italians and Germans, etc and so on are also white, but not Anglo. You prove my point, though I’m sure that’s not what you intended.
    You know what else I like about the term “people of color?” In a way, it forces the NAACP to address the needs of all people of color, which it does, btw.
    And yes, white is a color, just one without hues. So, should we say “people of hues.”

  13. Jeff B.

    No1kstate – Before I answer your last post, I just wanted to mention to you that the correct word is absurd with a “d,” not “absurb.” I’m not trying to attack you personally, just wanted you to know that since I’ve seen this crop up a few times in your posts.

    I did read over your comment. I think you took my original comment to a level far from the intent. But full circle again, “people of color” is an absurd term/phrase because everyone has color. White is a color. That was my point.

    That term/phrase is rooted in racism and has been ingrained. Just because something is accepted or internalized doesn’t make it right because history is full of examples that prove otherwise.

    On the “Anglo” part, you missed my “etc.,” meaning other alternatives should come into play. “Caucasian,” “European American,” or whatever…at least it’s more specific. I understand that even “American” and “Anglo” are subject to debate.

    quote: “Europeans didn’t call themselves white until they came across darker complected peoples.”
    There are lighter skinned non-Europeans.

    Yes, every group of people have different shades/variations of color.

  14. Jeff B.

    Quote: “You know what else I like about the term “people of color?” In a way, it forces the NAACP to address the needs of all people of color, which it does, btw.”
    Yes, everyone has color, as I’ve mentioned before. Instead of “people of color,” let’s just call them people.

  15. I don’t think the term “people of color” is an example of internalization of racism. Yes, it’s using a term originally intended to further racism, but using “people of color” doesn’t mean a person has internalized the supposed inferiority of people of color. And like Joe pointed out, it’s a word we use to refer to the collective group of people who aren’t white.
    Really, thanks for the spelling hint. No undercover sarcasm.

  16. Hey Jeff B. I just discovered this myself. So, there’s no “I told you so” behind this or anything. Just thought you’d, at the very least, find it interesting.

    6/1/1835 – 1835 – 5th National Negro Convention takes on word Negro The 5th National Negro Convention met in Philadelphia and urged blacks to abandon theuse of terms “African” and “colored” when referring to “Negro” institutions, organizations and to themselves.

  17. Jaun Millalonco

    My first visit here, found the blog accidentally really, and I just wanted to say I’ve enjoyed my visit and had some good reads while here 🙂

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