The XX Factor

Sonia Sotomayor’s Intuitive Mysticism

Emily, Hanna: To me, Sotomayor’s speech is most interesting for its embrace of a way of thinking about identity politics that seems almost mystical in nature: She stresses the experiential over the rational. In beginning the speech with descriptions of the Puerto Rican food she loves, she emphasizes the ways in which we’re the products of hundreds of years of culture and genetics; she lavishes attention on a particular “Puerto Rican” way of loving and living to suggest how old and deep our identities are. This is identity politics, yes, but it’s bound up with a sensual, visceral sense of the texture of life that I don’t usually hear in the language of judges. Beginning the speech that way complicates our idea of judicial thinking as rational and unemotional. Indeed, you might even say Sotomayor does away with the dichotomy of reason vs. emotion; she implies reason is bound up, albeit in some small way, with emotion, or at least with intuition. The current of her argument reflects this complexity; she doesn’t mainly argue that women are “different” in how they view the law, she just points out that studies show gender does lead to different outcomes in certain types of cases (about domestic abuse, say). But she takes pains to note that such differences are subtle. The line you single out , Hanna, is indeed cringe-inducing. But as you note, what’s on the page is more complex than the sound bytes.

Photograph of Sonia Sotomayor and niece Kylie Sotomayor by White House/Getty Images.