The XX Factor

Sotomayor Holds Her Nose

Dahlia, I agree - the more I digest Sotomayor’s Berkeley speech, the more I also appreciate it . Where Sandra Day O’Connor was too macho to admit that being a woman on the high court made her different, and where Ruth Bader Ginsburg is still hesitant to step too far from that party line, Sotomayor is frank and full-throated. She’s also not afraid to mull over the thorny and vexed topic of diversity without reaching a firm conclusion or making a wholly linear argument. Bracing, all of it.

Nor does it look to me like her Latina filter clouds her legal judgment. In 2002, in a case called Pappas v. Giuliani , Sotomayor had to decide whether to allow a suit to go foward that was brought by a New York City police officer who was asked, at home, to donate to charity and instead stuffed the reply envelopes with fliers asserting white supremacy and warning against the “Negro wolf … destroying American civilization with rape, robbery, and murder.” The other judges on her panel in the case upheld the firing. It would have been easy for Sotomayor to go along. Instead, she dissented. She called the mailings “patently offensive, hateful, and insulting.” But she said the majority “enters uncharted territory in our First Amendment jurisprudence,” because the police officer hadn’t indentified himself or connected himself with the NYPD. Sotomayor pointed out that he’d sent the mailings outside the office and on his own time. And she concluded that his speech was personal, and so he shouldn’t be disciplined for it at work. The bottom line is that Sotomayor cared more about freedom of speech than about punishing racism. That should be reassuring to all the critics who are trying to use her Latina pride to twist her into a small-minded and angry version of that identity. They’re wrong. That’s not her record.