The Republicans on the committee all but conceded today that Sonia Sotomayor would be confirmed. Even Jeff Sessions, who has been Sotomayor's leading critic on the panel, said that “I will not support and don’t think anyone else on this committee will support a filibuster of your nomination." Lindsey Graham, despite having asked some patronizing questions, said that the hearings had made Sotomayor "more acceptable as a judge and not a activist." Chuck Grassley slipped up and referred to Sotomayor as "Justice Sotomayor". Despite the hype surrounding the presence of the New Haven firefighters, Frank Ricci and Ben Vargas both declined invitations to attack Sotomayor and her qualifications, or suggest that she is somehow racist.
Instead, Republicans have chosen the hearings as a medium for reinforcing a particular worldview on race. Despite some of my tweets (which I think have at times characterized the Republican position unfairly), this isn't merely an issue of white men being the only remaining victims of racism. Some, I think, do believe that -- Linda Chavez' nasty personal testimony showed the contrast between this worldview, which many conservatives share, and the more moderate one Republican Senators are actually putting forth.
Republicans are using the hearing -- and the ascendancy of Judge Sotomayor -- to argue that race-conscious remedies for discrimination are no longer needed, and that they cause more harm than they do good. This was the reason John Cornyn quoted Justice Roberts' formulation that all we need to do to end racial discrimination is to "stop discriminating on the basis of race," which really means that we should ignore ongoing racial discrimination. I think it's also clear that there are degrees at which Republicans embrace this belief. Sen. Graham's statement that Republican efforts to provide diversity in political appointments is a "good thing" shows that, despite some of his more reactionary statements, he understands that some degree of racial discrimination continues. Even Sessions conceded that “We still have vestiges of discrimination in our society." They just think organizations that do something about it -- like PRLDEF -- shouldn't exist.
I think this is a naive worldview, one highly informed by the limited perspective of those represented on the panel. Dianne Feinstein noted the under-representation of women in positions of power, before saying that "we're making progress, but we're not there yet -- and we should not lose sight of that." There is a reason Feinstein has a different view from her male colleagues on the panel -- and it has something to do with the richness of her experience.
Feinstein is correct. Nothing makes this more clear than the composition of the Republican witness list, which contains a dearth of lawyers but is stacked with witnesses who were meant to testify exclusively on the Ricci case. Despite what Sen. Cornyn said, Martin Luther King's dream probably did not include a panel of white men questioning the first Hispanic nominee to the Supreme Court about her racial loyalties, suggesting that her work on behalf of securing civil rights for Latinos is some kind of disqualifying factor or a sign of anti-white racism. The irony of the focus on Ricci is that, despite Republicans' insistence on awarding jobs based on merit, they are judging Sotomayor based on their own racial anxieties.
Therein lies my frustration with the fact that Sotomayor's original insight -- that our backgrounds and life experiences have a serious effect on how we look at the world -- has been completely lost. Republicans have used these hearings to reinforce the idea that race no longer matters, that we have overcome. That may assuage the conscience of a nation with a history of struggling with racial animus (particularly that of an ideology firmly entrenched on the wrong side of history), but it's simply not true. Not yet. The hearings prove that much.
-- A. Serwer