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Commentary: Attacks on Sotomayor Based on Ethnicity and Gender are Insulting

Cristina Lopez
The Progressive Media Project

Published June 19, 2009

The assault on Judge Sonia Sotomayor has backfired.

After President Obama nominated her to the Supreme Court, I watched in dismay as right-wingers attacked this American woman of Hispanic descent who has done nothing but work hard to realize her American dream.

I respect anyone's right to object to Sotomayor's nomination because they believe that, despite her documented record as a moderate, she is not the conservative they would prefer. But when the attacks are based on her ethnicity and gender, as a Latina, I am insulted.

Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich, these American paragons of racial tolerance, called her "racist" for stating that justices are informed by their own life experiences.

Her statement was not much different from the one Clarence Thomas made at his confirmation hearing when he said: "I believe, senator, that I can make a contribution, that I can bring something different to the court, that I can walk in the shoes of the people who are affected by what the court does."

Her statement was not much different than the one Samuel Alito made at his confirmation hearing when he said: "When a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant – and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases – I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position."

The reality is that all of us, including white males, are influenced by our background and life experiences. Yet, this is seen as a negative only when race/ethnicity is involved. The concern should not be that one Hispanic or two women are going to tip the court, but that for too many years we have not had much diversity.

Karl Rove (a college dropout) called her stupid, even though she graduated at the top of her class at Princeton and Yale Law School, and was editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Hispanics and women understand that the attack on Sotomayor is an attack on them.

When G. Gordon Liddy calls Spanish the illegal language and wonders what will happen if Sotomayor has to decide a case during her menstrual cycle; when Glenn Beck refers to Sotomayor as "Hispanic chick lady"; and when The Hill newspaper quotes conservative insiders as being concerned that her love of Puerto Rican food would cloud her judicial decision-making, it should not only outrage Latinos and women, but it should also anger all Americans who believe the selection of a Supreme Court justice is a serious process.

The nomination of Sotomayor is a historic one for Latinos. Personal attacks like these will only further alienate Latinos from the conservative camp.

Some conservative senators grasped that fact fairly early on. And eventually Gingrich retracted his racism charge, and even Limbaugh softened up a bit.

But the damage has been done. And it will take conservatives a long time to recover from it.


Cristina Lopez is president of the National Hispana Leadership Institute, a national leadership development organization focused on Latina leaders ( The writer wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; e-mail:; Web site: For information on PMP's funding, please visit