Deal W. Hudson
July 6, 2009
The confirmation of nominee Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court justice is almost a certainty. She’s a woman, a Hispanic, and the pick of a popular president who leads the party that controls the Senate. Democratic leadership in the Senate is determined to complete hearings before the Judiciary Committee and get a confirmation vote before Congress adjourns in August.
Thus far, Republicans have not voiced much opposition to the nomination, perhaps thinking it better to save their ammunition for an easier battle. It’s a mistake, however, to allow such a nominee to take a seat on the Supreme Court without a serious debate. Catholics, in particular, should object to more than simply her position on abortion. There is a more basic, epistemological issue at stake: She denies we can have the kind of knowledge necessary to affirm that abortion is morally reprehensible.
If confirmed, Sotomayor would be the first postmodern justice on the Supreme Court. Sotomayor believes knowledge and value claims are evaluated relative to the culture, ethnicity, and gender they represent. “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion,” she was famously quoted as saying in 1994. This line takes on a deeper meaning when understood as a direct response to Sandra Day O’Connor’s use of the maxim, “A wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases.”
Unlike any previous justice, Sotomayor represents the “radical campus Left,” says Manny Miranda, president of the Third Branch Conference. Miranda is a seasoned veteran of Supreme Court nomination fights, having been the primary mover behind derailing President Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers.
The fundamental difference between Sotomayor and the present justices, Miranda explained, was exposed when the Supreme Court overturned her ruling on the New Haven firefighters’ case, Ricci v. DeStefano. A white firefighter went to court objecting to a promotions exam that was nullified by the city when all the minority candidates failed it. “Ricci is a great case which gives you a window into what she is about,” Miranda explains; “the case itself is arguable, but it exposes what she is about – multiculturalism, gender, and ethnicity; no one else on the court represents that.”
In other words, justice is not blind, and truth cannot be objective. What matters is not what is thought or expressed, but who thinks or says it.
In the next few days, Pope Benedict XVI will release his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, “Charity in Truth.” This encyclical is expected to expand on his theme of “the dictatorship of relativism,” invoked in a homily four years ago. Benedict describes relativism as a dictatorship because it “does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”
Sotomayor’s assumptions could not be further from those of Benedict’s. The same presuppositions that lead her to claim wisdom based upon her gender and ethnicity led her to the conclusion that the minority firefighters who scored poorly on the promotion exam had been deprived of equal justice. The minority firefighters did not get what they desired, so, in Sotomayor’s view, the fault must have been with the exam, not the exam takers.
If Sotomayor becomes the first postmodern Supreme Court justice, it is because Obama has already become the first postmodern president. His own expressed criteria for selecting judges and justices will be their “empathy to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom; the empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old.”
As Miranda points out, “Justices Alito and Roberts avoided the radical Left on campus that Sotomayor has reveled in.” Miranda hopes Republicans will force a national debate to take place around the Judiciary Committee hearings on the Sotomayor nomination. The nation needs to recognize, in Miranda’s words, that “Sotomayor is not just about quotas, but about something much deeper than that.”
That something deeper is the relativism of postmodernism, with all the destructive consequences that the coming encyclical from Benedict is posed to describe.