Best of 2009: Sotomayor’s ‘Controversial’ Comments Backed Up By Academic Research
All day, we’re re-running our favorite blog posts of the last year. This post was originally published on May 26, 2009.
One of the things that most infuriates conservative commentators like Michelle Malkin and Stuart Taylor about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is that in delivering a 2002 speech at UC-Berkeley, the judge said that “our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions” and that “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.”
If, deprived of their context, these statements sound controversial, in the context of her lecture, titled “A Latina Judge’s Voice,” they made perfect sense.
Sotomayor’s view that judges are influenced by their background and experiences is backed up by studies that show that women judges, for example, tend to rule in a way that’s more sympathetic to plaintiffs in employment discrimination cases than male judges do — probably because, having experienced discrimination themselves as they struggled to advance in a male-dominated profession, they’re more attuned to its signs.
A recent study by political scientists and law professors Christina Boyd, Lee Epstein and Andrew Martin, for example, found that “female judges are approximately 10 percent more likely to rule in favor of the party bringing the discrimination claim,” as two of the authors wrote recently in The Washington Post. What’s more, they wrote, “[w]e also found that the presence of a female judge causes male judges to vote differently. When male and female judges serve together to decide a sex discrimination case, the male judges are nearly 15 percent more likely to rule in favor of the party alleging discrimination than when they sit with male judges only.”
Sotomayor, in her 2002 lecture, similarly noted that “The Judicature Journal has at least two excellent studies on how women on the courts of appeal and state supreme courts have tended to vote more often than their male counterpart to uphold women’s claims in sex discrimination cases and criminal defendants’ claims in search and seizure cases.”
“As recognized by legal scholars,” she continued, “whatever the reason, not one woman or person of color in any one position but as a group we will have an effect on the development of the law and on judging.”
While Sotomayor’s comments, taken out of context, provide fodder for her right-wing critics, it’s worth noting that the judge has the evidence on her side.