Reporter's Note: President Barack Obama wants advice on how to run the country. I suspect if I were President of the United States I’d want an owner’s manual. Nonetheless, my “letter a day to the White House” campaign continues unabated.
Tom Foreman | Bio
Dear Mr. President,
I’ve been following this spat over Sonia Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” comment, and it really has me thinking about the nature of experience, and judgment, and justice. You may recall that some time ago I questioned whether we, as a culture, are giving up on the notion of objectivity, and this Supreme Court business is bringing it all back to mind. (Kind of the way Enter the Dragon reminds me of a girlfriend I once had. Ha!)
Anyway, without diving right into the fracas over your choice (because heaven knows that pool is plenty crowded already) I did want to share a couple of thoughts.
For starters, I accept that the way we are raised, the culture in which we grow up, and the events that fill our days substantially shape the moral framework of our lives.
In that sense, experience…not general experience, but specific life experience…matters. If we want a court that represents and understands all types of Americans, not just the white men who have forever dominated the court, a good mix of ethnicities, genders, ages, and points of view would appear to be de facto “good.” (“De facto;” that’s lawyer talk…extra points for me!)
But the flipside of this argument is unsettling to the point of being downright ugly. For years, when virtually all professional sports coaches were white, for example, the argument against more black coaches was essentially this: “They are from a culture that does not understand management at such a high level. They are not culturally equipped for the job. Their ethnic experience disqualifies them for the position.”
Those arguments were not fair and they were not correct. So you see the problem. If it was wrong to use ethnic identity as a disqualifier for a job then, how can we use it as a qualifier now?
I’ll tell you right up front I don’t have an answer. I am simply puzzled by the question. I should also add that I understand that Ms. Sotomayor, as you have suggested, might very much like to change her wording if she had to do it all over again. We all say things from time to time that may be less than fully considered, and if that were enough to keep us out of any given job, I would be habitually unemployed.
Still, if you pass any courthouse in America, there is a good chance you will see a statue or painting of Blind Justice. I have always understood the point to be that we should expect our judges (and presumably our Justices) to do all they can to put their individual experiences behind them, and embrace a broader objectivity in which their racial, sexual, or political identity becomes utterly subservient to their goal of justice that sees no color and no gender.
Just a few thoughts. Give me a buzz if you have a second, because I’d love to hear yours.
And I hope your weekend is going well.
Find more of the Foreman Letters, here.
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