Friday, May 29, 2009

...Even White Guys

I have edited the previous post, adding the link to Judge Sotomayor's 2001 speech, which was printed in a 2002 journal.

In the interest of fairness (and to save you the effort), here is the offending line, which I have already criticized:

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life."

But while we are quoting lines out of context, I also offer another example, which better reflects the thrust of the whole speech:

"The aspiration to impartiality is just that--it's an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others."

Still, where I stand against both Sotomayor and her critics is that they all operate as if white male judges have no background or experience to bring into the courtroom. Sotomayor thinks that's a bad thing, her critics think it's a good thing.

The truth is it's a fantasy. Aspirations of impartiality aside, even white males bring their background and experiences into the courtroom, for good or ill.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Everybody Brings Background and Experiences

So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

Just to set the record straight, the Creator did not begin with a generic white male and then decide to get really creative and diversify. Even if you conclude that God created a male first (and not simply a human), that male was not a generic white American man. But the architects of the American experience WERE a bunch of white males (even though the nation was built on the backs of an extremely diverse populous), and, until 1967, ALL of our Supreme Court justices were white males (you knew that, right?).

So in 2001, Latina Judge Sonia Sotomayor, now the nominee to the Supreme Court, gave a speech to a Hispanic law group in which she explicated and defended the obvious: judges bring their experiences and backgrounds into the courtroom. One line out of the 8 pages (12-pt type, Times Roman) has made the rounds in the blogosphere. Once again a single line is taken out of context. One need only read or hear the whole speech to get the truth of it. But to be fair to her critics, this one line is ill-crafted. I don’t believe the judge meant precisely what she said (this was a speech, not a law brief). Still, the real problem with the statement is that it begins the same place her critics begin: with the presumption that everyone except white males has relevant backgrounds and experiences.

But the problem her critics present is that the judge admits to bringing her background and experiences into the courtroom. I can almost imagine the bathroom meetings “What’s worse is she seems downright proud about bringing her experiences into the courtroom! This is what’s wrong with having a woman or a non-white on the court: they insist on bringing that non-white non-male stuff with them. Why can’t they be generic like all of the tried and true white male judges of yore? Damn the Sixties! Now we have black people, women, and brown people all wanting a piece of the pie.”

Don’t worry, George Will, Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, Richard Land, WSJ and all you other complainers; white men are still allowed to bring their background and experience to the bench too, as they have done virtually exclusively for over 200 years. But somehow we’ve pretended that the white males are devoid of background and experience. And they pretend that they argue purely the law. They delude themselves.

BTW, if Judge Sotomayor becomes Justice Sotomayor, she doesn’t bring only the Latina experience and background. She brings the Sonia Sotomayor experience and background. Still with her confirmation, the court will reflect a bit more of the actual diversity of the American people than it ever has. And if Sonia Sotomayor is confirmed, white males with their background and experiences still maintain a massive dominance on the Supreme Court.

But we must begin to acknowledge: there is no such thing as a generic justice, a generic American, or a generic person. And whether we acknowledge it or not, our backgrounds and experiences go with us wherever we go.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Pray, America, Pray!

For years I’ve had mixed feelings about the National Day of Prayer. I’m all for prayer. I practice it, encourage it, need it. But this particular observance has always felt strange. I think the uneasiness started when I saw the first music CD designed to support the day in 1997. I was highly disturbed that this official soundtrack for national prayer excluded the most prayerful ethnic group in the nation (African American Christians, according to various surveys). In fact, every artist on the collection was an evangelical white Christian. A few years later, a new CD—same thing.

I’m not opposed to evangelical Christians (of which I consider myself) or white people (of any faith) praying and celebrating prayer in their own way, But a national day of prayer should emphasize the prayers of ALL Americans, not just the ones who fit some narrow guidelines. That’s why the events sponsored by Shirley Dobson’s organization AT THE WHITE HOUSE seem unAmerican and unChristian. It’s like they go out of their way to be exclusive. They seem to revel in their exclusiveness. They miss the point. It’s not about making everyone think like you. It’s about praying to the God of the universe.

So I understand why the current President will lift up prayer with a proclamation, but not with an invitation to the Dobsons, who have been unChristianly critical (there is a way to be Christianly critical) of the President. It’s not that the President has anything against prayer—quite to the contrary. More than any President in recent memory, he actually talks about his own prayer life. And notably, prayer is featured at many of his events—a fact baffling to those who organized events for the previous President.

And I expect that President Obama will encourage ALL Americans to pray. Such an encouragement would actually be consistent with the proclamations of most US Presidents, including Mr. GW Bush. Despite his exclusivist actions, the previous President at least expressed this inclusive sentiment in several of his annual proclamations. From 2008:

“I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 1, 2008, as a National Day of Prayer. I ask the citizens of our Nation to give thanks, EACH ACCORDING TO HIS OR HER OWN FAITH, for the freedoms and blessings we have received and for God’s continued guidance, comfort, and protection. I invite all Americans to join in observing this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.”

But year after year, President Bush’s chosen way of observing the day has been the same: Sanctioning the Dobson’s exclusivist effort by inviting them to a White House observance.

I hope the new President will support this day with as much passion, but with a mind to include all pray-ers.

My friends and readers (and friends who are readers), I encourage you to pray even if you do not pray every day. Whether you are an evangelical Christian, as I claim to be, or some other believer or an almost-believer, I ask you to thank the God of the universe, to pray for this nation and for all the nations on this National Day of Prayer.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

They Were Right: Redistribution!

They warned me. And they were right. Back when I was supporting candidate Obama for the Presidency, several of my friends were concerned. They warned me that Barack Obama wanted to “redistribute the wealth.” They felt that this was unfair since hardworking, intelligent, godly and (consequently) wealthy people already pay more of their income in taxes than lazy, stupid, ungodly (and therefore) poorer people.

So now President Obama has gone and proved my friends right, at least on one count. Through his stimulus package, the President has given 95% of working Americans more of their own money to spend. That includes the working poor, the middle class and the pretty-darn-near-wealthy. Only the undeniable wealthy escaped this tax cut. This, my friends is a campaign promise fulfilled—signed, sealed, and delivered to your paycheck. So my concerned friends were right. Just like that, President Obama has redistributed the wealth.

But wait, there’s more. Now the President has announced his intention to close tax loopholes that help undeniably wealthy individuals and corporations hide untaxed or low-taxed money overseas. So now the wealthiest of Americans will have to pay their fair share of taxes on even more (though probably not all) of their wealth. There he goes again redistributing the wealth—taking from the few tax-sheltered ones and giving to the tax-paying millions who are just trying to make a enough money to shelter their families. It’s so unfair.

"If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.--Matthew 19:21=24