BUT WHAT ABOUT THE JUSTICES?
Those who reacted with indignation to Sonia Sotomayor’s comments on how her awareness of race inevitably influenced her judgment, may be hypocritical and they may be trying to manipulate public opinion — but it is even more important to grasp that they do not have reality on their side. Senator Cornyn, a Texas Republican on the Judiciary Committee, opined that “The American ideal is that justice should be colorblind.” Apart from the question of whether or not it has been our “ideal,” or even if it has ever been realized, is it even possible?
Adam Liptak makes a nice point in this Sunday’s New York Times, “The Waves Justices Make.” Supreme Court justices themselves have been deeply influenced by the racial identities of their fellow judges. “Marshall could be a persuasive force just by sitting there,” Justice Antonin Scalia told Juan Williams in an interview for a biography of Justice Marshall, recalling the justices’ private conferences about cases. “He wouldn’t have to open his mouth to affect the nature of the conference and how seriously the conference would take matters of race.”
To some extent, we are all racists, as John Blow pointed out in his OpEd piece in Saturdays New York Times: “On one end is the mere existence of racial bias. Harvard’s Project Implicit, an online laboratory, has demonstrated that most of us have this bias, whether we are conscious of it or not. Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum are the conscious expressions of that bias in the form of prejudices. On the other end, at the extreme, are deliberate acts of racial discrimination based on those prejudices. That’s where the racists dwell.”
The universality of this bias is rooted in the unconsciously determined categories that our minds create to make sense of our experience. We lump things together. And it is demonstrated in the tragic shooting of off-duty police officers by their white colleagues. Those “accidents” were almost certainly not consciously intended, but in the heat of the moment, with little time to reflect, like the rest of us, they relied on those categories, with disastrous consequences.
That cannot be said of Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Tom Tancredo or the other Republicans who are clearly looking for an issue to block Obama’s nomination. In terms of Blow’s categories of bias, that’s genuine “racism.”