Below please find a reply I wrote to the recent article by “Black Agenda Report (BAR) the journal of African American political thought and action” on an article entitled “Sonia Sotomayor: She’s No Clarence Thomas, But No Thurgood Marshall Either” by managing editor Bruce A. Dixon. I invite all readers to write BAR and express your opinion on this important nomination. The article is on the following website: http://www.blackagendareport.com/
Black Agenda Report(BAR) Joins the Anti-Latino Sotomayor Agenda
By Howard Jordan
I was saddened to witness Black Agenda Report (BAR) join the chorus of attacks on Latina justice Sonia Sotomayor. The article “Sonia Sotomayor: She’s No Clarence Thomas, But No Thurgood Marshall Either” by managing editor Bruce A. Dixon trivializes the historic importance of the nomination of the first Latina to the court. It also does a disservice to the Puerto Rican/Latino legal and political experience in the United States. Let me address some the points you raise:
First you argue that corporate media is exaggerating the importance of the nomination and it just feeds the notion that anybody can overcome racism in America. As a New York born Puerto Rican/Latino the importance of the nomination to our community is unprecedented. Though racism is structural and will not be eliminated by one appointment Mr. Dixon the narrative is important. A diabetic Latina, who lost her father when she was nine, raised in a housing project speaking a foreign language, attended Princeton, was editor a Yale Law Review, and served on the bench for seventeen years is a tribute and recognition of the important contributions Latin@s have made to this nation. The elevation of Thurgood Marshal to the Supreme Court during that historical period received the same sense of elation in the African-American community. It is as one Dominican legislator noted a “Jackie Robinson moment” for the 40 million Latinos in the U.S.
I am troubled that in your article you make only a passing reference to the racist comments characterizing Sotomayor as a “reverse racist,” an “affirmative action pick, a Hispanic chick, making fun of her unpronounceable last name, or cartoon depictions of her strung up like a piñata with a sombrero as an “easy out for progressives…to waste all their time and oxygen debating Republicans, ridiculing and refuting their racism.” The Latino community, as do all communities of color, have a responsibility and yes even an obligation to refute unfounded attacks that stereotype Justice Sotomayor and by extension promote racist stereotypes against Latinos.
Second, you rightly note Justice Sotomayor’s participation on the Board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the main civil rights law firm for Latinos in the Northeast, but demean that participation by referring to the fact that she was “reportedly involved.” You state “No reports we have seen say that she personally filed those suits or that she ever appeared in court on behalf of litigants in discrimination and other lawsuits… she can hardly claim sole credit for it. The best barometer of her participation in PRLDEF is the statement of Puerto Ricans themselves. As Cesar Perales, the PRLDEF President stated “Sonia displayed an increasing amount of leadership on the board.” Unless of course you are going to parrot the white right and argue that Perales is only saying that because he’s Puerto Rican. She served nobly. By the way as I am sure you know board members don’t bring the cases in civil rights organizations.
Mr. Dixon, Ms. Sotomayor was one of 20 Hispanics in her class at Princeton and co-chairwoman of the Puerto Rican organization Accion Puertorriqueno where she wrote a complaint accusing Princeton of discrimination and convinced the leaders of the Chicano Caucus to co-sign it and filed it with the federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare. As a result of her efforts, Princeton employed its first Hispanic administrator and invited a Puerto Rican professor to teach. (New York Times) Perhaps you also missed her Yale Law Review article where she urged the granting of special rights for off-shore mineral rights for Puerto Rico not enjoyed by U.S. states, a historical corollary to the Vieques struggle of the Puerto Rican nation. (New York Times-David Gonzalez)
The one point you raise that I wholeheartedly agree with is your recognition of the contributions of Justice Thurgood Marshal and his transformation of the legal and racial landscape. As an attorney Justice Marshal remains one of my heroes and is the most important Supreme Court justice in U.S. history. But I consider the Sotomayor nomination as part of the historical continuum of the Latino contribution to the broader struggle for civil rights. It is the cross fertilization of our communities struggle for legal equality.
For example, in the case of Mendez v. Westminster, nine years before Brown vs. the Board of Education, on March 2, 1945, five Latino fathers (Gonzalo Mendez, Thomas Estrada, William Guzman, Frank Palomino, and Lorenzo Ramirez) challenged the practice of school segregation in the Ninth Federal District Court in Los Angeles. They claimed that their children, along with 5,000 other children of “Mexican and Latin descent”, were victims of unconstitutional discrimination by being forced to attend separate “Mexican” schools in the Westminster, Garden Grove, Santa Ana, and El Modeno school districts of Orange County. Judge Paul J. McCormick ruled in favor of Mendez and his co-plaintiffs on February 18, 1946. As a result “separate but equal” ended in California schools and legally enforced separation of racial and national groups in the public education system. The governor of the state at this time was Earl Warren who later decided Brown.
I will not go on to cite all the contributions of Sotomayor this gifted jurist who is a legatee of our contributions to our struggle for social justice. Anybody with roots in our community understands this reality and can readily access her contributions through the internet or the written and oral histories of our community if they so desired.
Third, you maintain that her legal experience a “mere 12 years of legal experience” five as a prosecutor and 7 for and corporate firm is not significant. Perhaps in your analysis you failed to mention that Justice Sotomayor has more legal experience that any of the nominees on the present court had at the time. Even more troubling is your transparent attempts to cherry pick those cases that would present Justice Sotomayor in a negative pro-corporate light. As the New York Times indicated Justice Sotomayor would bring more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any justice in 100 years and more overall judicial experience than anyone confirmed in the court in the past 70 years. She participated in over 3000 panel decisions and authored roughly 400 opinions.
Fourthly, you establish a false causal connection between the Rockefeller Drug laws and the development of the prison-industrial complex and Sotomayor. The article argues that during this period Sotomayor as a prosecutor did not inject herself in this scandalous imprisonment of people of color. I frankly don’t see the connection, did Sotomayor cause this situation? During this same historical period Puerto Ricans were held as Puerto Rican political prisoners in American prisons and many progressive lawyers did not speak out. Many jurist, liberals, and yes progressive of color have not played a leading role in denouncing the colonization of the Puerto Rican people (America’s last colony), despite the efforts of our people to bring our situation to the courts, yet I would not blame them for assisting the colonizers in their silence.
Five, you use a corporate news media source like the Wall Street Journal to argue that Justice Sotomayor not only represented corporate clients but rejoiced in that representation. You note that absent from the conversation is a cursory review of her (Sotomayor’s) legal career then proceed to offer your readers a less than cursory review of your own. I am particularly disturbed on how your article cherry picked the cases that pigeon hole the judge as pro-business- but conveniently ignored other decisions such as the 2006 case Merrill Lynch v. Dabit where she allowed class action lawsuits against Merrill Lynch or her ruling in favor of the players (workers) in the major league baseball strike. As many scholars have noted that her opinions do not necessarily put her in a pro- or anti-business camp. (New York Times-May 28)
It might also have been more intellectually honest to note the civil liberties decision by the Justice in the Ricci case allowing the city of New Haven to reject an exam that discriminated against African American and Latinos or her support against insensitive strip search of a 13 year old girl as intrusive. Or the case of United States v. Reimer where Judge Sotomayor wrote an opinion revoking the US citizenship for a man charged with working for the Nazis in World War II Poland, guarding concentration camps and helping empty the Jewish ghettos. And in Lin v. Gonzales where she ordered renewed consideration of the asylum claims of Chinese women who experienced or were threatened with forced birth control
I would add that while I would not reject the argument that many of the Justice’s experience have also been corporate friendly as is most of the court, I don’t believe we have any “revolutionaries” on the bench. Will the nomination of Sotomayor destroy the corporate state/capitalism or free people of color from the racial oppression in the United States- no but is it a significant step forward- yes.
I am particularly troubled with the overall tenor of your article characterizing Justice Sotomayor as a “zealot advocate for multinational business” and an “easy out for progressives around the Sotomayor nomination is to waste all their time and oxygen debating Republicans, ridiculing and refuting their racism.” I am a progressive and I wholeheartedly reject your advice. Justice Sotomayor is reflective of the Puerto Rican/Latino experience in the United States. I would submit to you Mr. Dixon that recognizing a community’s leadership is about “respect” and I view your article as disrespectful and a cavalier dismissal of our historical experience.
As a New York born Puerto Rican I have spent a large part of my life organizing in the Latino community and struggling to build bridges between Latinos and African Americans. From the struggles against police brutality, to the Jackson campaign in 1984 and 1988, to support for the election of Mayor Dinkins, to the endorsement of candidate Obama for the Presidency who received 67 percent of the Latino vote. It is in the interest of both African Americans and Latinos to continue to cement the historical alliance between our communities and against the white supremacy that has relegated both our communities to the bottom of the economic ladder. “Sticking it” to our leaders and refusing to recognize the different levels of our “racialization” of our respective communities does not lend itself to that goal. It instead diminishes solidarity, weakens alliances, and deprives our communities of the benefits of sharing experiences.
As a regular reader of BAR I have enormous appreciation for the insight your publication has on issues of importance to all communities of color. I have read with interest your critiques of President Obama and embrace of Rosa Clemente’s candidacy as the first Afro-Puerto Rican Vice-Presidential candidate for the Green Party. That is why I was bitterly disappointed at your blind spot on the importance of the nomination of Sotomayor as “historical milestone.” The first African American President nominating the first Latina to the U.S. Supreme Court is reflective of a new Black-Brown paradigm in America where all contributions are fully recognized. We must bring together the legacies of those “those who picked cotton and those that cut sugar cane.” However, with all due respect, this will not be accomplished by promoting anti-Latino sentiments in the mainstream press.
Howard Jordan, host
The Jordan Journal