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MSNBC: Isn’t justice supposed to be blind, Rachel?

July 14, 2009

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On last night’s Rachel Maddow Show, Senate Judiciary Committee member Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat-Rhode Island) was one of the featured interviewees.

Addressing Maddow’s questions about the current confirmation hearings of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, Whitehouse argued that Republicans had accepted the inevitability of her confirmation and that their speeches amounted to nothing more than political gamesmanship:

A great deal of what’s going on right now is positioning for the next nominee and fighting for the vision of what a Supreme Court Judge should think like and look like, with the Republicans fighting very hard to try to normalize the right-wing infiltration into the judiciary that they’ve accomplished over the past couple of years.

Maddow’s reaction signaled that she had detected, somewhere in the senator’s response, at least a hint of what she wanted to hear: that the Republicans are racist. (Indeed, this is one of Maddow’s most frequently repeated themes.)  “When you say ‘look like,’ do you mean that they’ve raised the issue of her race against her?” she asked.

Honestly Rachel, why ask the question? If Republicans had done that, you’d have been the first to know.

Whitehouse was hard-pressed to provide any real evidence supporting the dubious charge. He replied:

Well, they’ve tried to sort of set as what’s normal and sort of the basic benchmark the almost exclusively white male — six out of eight right now — status of the court. And they have tried to suggest that when she says she brings a different perspective that’s a problem on her part and it is a little odd that her perspective should be a problem but the perspective of six white men isn’t a problem… It’s the combination of those perspectives that make a better court.   

Perhaps the aspect of this discussion that most irritates me is that no one seems able to actually spell out just why it would matter if a judge is a minority. Should being white, black, or Latino affect how someone interprets the law and administers justice? Should one’s race affect how he or she is judged before the court? The answer to both questions should be an obvious “no.” A blind justice is one of the most cherished symbols of our legal tradition.

Further, how can any rational, educated person take seriously the suggestions of Whitehouse and Maddow that Sotomayor’s ethnicity and gender have ANYTHING to do with Republican opposition to her nomination? Do they honestly believe that Republicans would challenge her nomination if her judicial philosophy, rather than being steeped in identity politics, instead resembled that of Chief Justice John Roberts? 

This is entirely a fight about judicial philosophy — not race or gender. And Maddow is smart enough to know that.

Notwithstanding the relentless caricatures put forth by critics like Maddow, the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement have proven themselves to be neither sexist or racist. All one need do is drop such names as Sarah Palin, Alberto Gonzales, Sandra Day O’Connor, Condoleezza Rice, and Clarence Thomas to show that while leftists might not believe in blind justice, their own ideological rigidity has plunged them into a very different, and pernicious, kind of blindness.

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