On Thursday's 10am ET Newsroom, CNN sought to give "context" to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's infamous "wise Latinas" make better decisions than white males remark. To rationalize and explain Sotomayor's ethnic argument, correspondent Soledad O'Brien surreally suggested the judge was really talking about the food she ate as a child, even going so far as to interview people in Central Park to ask about their favorite foods.
O'Brien, who is half-Cuban, cited a passage in Sotomayor's "wise Latina" speech that referenced food as supplying the necessary context to understand her slam on white males: "'For me, a very special part of being Latina is the mucho platos de arroz, gandoles y pernir - rice, beans and pork - that I have eaten at countless family holidays and special events.' This is during her speech - she says in the speech back in 2001. She goes on to talk about the pig's feet and the other special dishes particular, not just to Puerto Ricans, but many Latino families."
The notion that Sotomayor's legal address, "A Latina Judge's Voice," was merely a celebration of her heritage and culture, including pig's feet, and had nothing to do with her vision of the judiciary, is beyond bizarre. For "context," here's a big chunk of Sotomayor's 2001 speech; the entire speech can be read here :
The focus of my speech tonight, however, is not about the struggle to get us where we are and where we need to go but instead to discuss with you what it all will mean to have more women and people of color on the bench....While recognizing the potential effect of individual experiences on perception, Judge [Miriam] Cedarbaum nevertheless believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law. Although I agree with and attempt to work toward Judge Cedarbaum's aspiration, I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases. And I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society....
I accept the proposition that, as Judge Resnik describes it, "to judge is an exercise of power" and because as, another former law school classmate, Professor Martha Minnow of Harvard Law School, states "there is no objective stance but only a series of perspectives - no neutrality, no escape from choice in judging," I further accept that our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions. 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. Not all women or people of color, in all or some circumstances or indeed in any particular case or circumstance but enough people of color in enough cases, will make a difference in the process of judging....
Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, 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.
Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.
However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.
As for CNN's attempt to morph that speech into a celebration of Latin cuisine, here is the full transcript of the segment with Collins and O'Brien, which began 16 minutes into the 10 am Eastern hour of the "Newsroom" program. The on-screen graphic advertised: "Beyond 'Wise Latina' Sotomayor's Quote in Context."
HEIDI COLLINS: By now, most people have heard Sonia Sotomayor's quote from a 2001 speech at the University of California-Berkeley's Law School- said this: '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.'
CNN's special correspondent Soledad O'Brien is here now. Soledad, some people would say the context is not complete with that comment, and because of that, as usual, when you don't have context, something might be lost?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, absolutely, and once again, I would encourage anybody who has interest in the story to quick [sic] go to CNN.com/politics. You can read her entire speech. She's very clear about what she means. She talks, Heidi, about how her identity was formed, and she literally asked the question, who am I, in the speech. The speech is called 'A Latina Judge's Voice,' and she talks about what formed her identity. First and foremost, she's a New York-Rican, which means her parents came from Puerto Rico- Puerto Rico, but she was born in New York- she's from the South Bronx. And guess what, Puerto Ricans are Americans. She is not an immigrant to this country.
What formed her identity, she says, are the shared traditions. And here's a little bit of what she says about the food. She says, 'For me, a very special part of being Latina is the mucho platos de arroz, gandoles y pernir- rice, beans and pork- that I have eaten at countless family holidays and special events.' This is during her speech- she says in the speech back in 2001. She goes on to talk about the pig's feet and the other special dishes particular, not just to Puerto Ricans, but many Latino families.
We went to Central Park to take kind of an unofficial survey, and what you find is that people connect very closely to food and their cultural and ethnic identity. Take a listen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: We like rice and beans, sweet plantains, rice and peas, pork, guados, pasteles.
O'BRIEN (on-camera): Tell me about the food of your childhood. What's your ethnicity?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: Puerto Rican.
O'BRIEN: Really? Okay. So list for me the Puerto Rican food.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: Quickly, I've got to go.
O'BRIEN: I can't walk any faster.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: Rice, beans, pork chops, chicken.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: That's about it.
O'BRIEN: All good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: Tostones- you got to have tostones.
O'BRIEN: You've got to have the tostones.
O'BRIEN: So, where are you from?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1: I was born in New York, but my family's from Colombia.
O'BRIEN: And what's the food you grew up eating?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of white rice and, like, pinto beans.
O'BRIEN: Tell me about the food of Austria.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 3: The food of Austria- wienerschnitzel, schweinebraten, and (unintelligible).
O'BRIEN: If you are Austrian-American, you need to e-mail me and tell me what (unintelligible) is because I have no idea. At the end of the day, Heidi, what's critical, I think, to take away, is that this is American culture. There are dozens of places in New York City where an American can whip up wienerschnitzel for you. She's not an outsider- she's an insider, and she represents frankly, the fastest growing demographic in this country right now- Latinos.
COLLINS: Right. But I- but I think what the question was for some people who were concerned and are concerned as we move forward to the confirmation process is not about the food and what her background is. It's about how she is going to judge on that potential bench.
O'BRIEN: Well, I think the question is really identity, and what she's saying is the food connects to her personal identity. But more than that, her identity on the bench- she's saying as a judge, look at my record and decide. But as who you are in your personal identity doesn't necessarily mean how you're going to judge. For example, you look at the population under the age of five- that's- that's Latin- that's half the population under the age of five is Latino. The census data points to the fact that somewhere around 2032, minorities, as a whole in this country, are going to be the majority. So Judge Sotomayor, frankly, is the face of what America's going to look like. She's Latina and she's American. Her culture is American culture. To present her as an outsider- she's not. She- she is the face of what America's looking like and is going to look like, and when you connect it to the food- guess what: the mainstream culture has embraced- through food often, through music- pizza, has embraced tacos- McDonald's at one point- you know, Chipotle- the story of- for me, at least- America is immigration and not necessarily assimilation.
But the fact that immigrants keep the good things or people who- who- who- are trying to figure out where their culture fits into America, keep all the good things about their culture but also embrace America wholeheartedly. So she's not really an immigrant story, she's an American story, and I think it's a story that's resonating very clearly with African-Americans, Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans- anybody. How she judges- look at her record- who she is as a human being. There's a wide variety in how Latinos think politically, et cetera. But what they connect to ethnically is often the food, the music, what forms their experiences.
- Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.