Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Domineering Sonia and Ambitious Hillary: What Will Those Pushy Women Want Next?

Photo credits: Cleveland.com

In reviewing the criticisms targeting Sonia Sotomayor, Obama’s pick to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court, one can’t help but be reminded of the sexist assaults on Hillary Clinton over the years, most recently as a presidential candidate. While, Sotomayor’s critics have described her as “domineering,” Hillary’s critics accused her of the outrageous crime of being “ambitious.” Seriously, would we criticize a male, especially a candidate for national office, for possessing either of those qualities? For example, take Barack Obama, who, lacking ambition, could hardly have been elected to the presidency solely on the basis of his thin resume.

In the June 8th issue of the New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin explores the history of diversity on the Supreme Court as he makes the case for Sotomayor’s confirmation. Toobin writes:

As with earlier breakthrough nominations, Obama’s selection of Sotomayor has stirred some old-fashioned ugliness, and in that alone it serves as a reminder of the value of a diverse bench and society. Some anonymous portrayals of the Judge offered the kind of patronizing critiques (“not that smart”) that often greet outsiders at white-male preserves. Women who have integrated such bastions will be familiar, too, with the descriptions of her temperament (“domineering”), which are of a variety that tend to reveal more about the insecurity of male holdovers than about the comportment of female pioneers. The pernicious implication of such views is that white males, who constitute a hundred and six of the hundred and ten individuals who have served on the Court, made it on merit, and that Sotomayor is somehow less deserving.

Toobin makes some important points in this article, but he unfortunately reverts on occasion to the obligatory fawning whenever Obama’s name is mentioned; however, in the passage below, he at least qualifies Obama’s so-called progressivism:

At the Court, as in American life, the rules of diversity have changed. Regional differences faded long ago. The fact that two Arizonans, O’Connor and William H. Rehnquist, served together for almost a quarter century mattered little to anyone. Religious tensions have also cooled. By the time Bill Clinton named Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer to the Court, the fact that both are Jewish (and replaced non-Jewish predecessors) was little more than a curiosity. If Sotomayor is confirmed, there will be six Catholics on the Court, which is also of minor significance. George W. Bush appointed John G. Roberts, Jr., and Samuel A. Alito, Jr., because they are conservative, not because they are Catholic. (The Catholic Brennan was the Court’s greatest liberal.) More than anything, it seems clear that the President saw in Sotomayor a kindred spirit—a high achiever from a humble background who reflects, as best as can be determined, his own brand of progressivism.

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