Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sotomayor and Thomas--separated at birth?

"For Sotomayor and Thomas, paths diverge at race." This is the title and topic of a fascinating article by Jodi Kantor and David Gonzales in Saturday's New York Times. It begins:
If Judge Sonia Sotomayor joins Justice Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, they may find that they have far more than a job title in common.

Both come from the humblest of beginnings. Both were members of the first sizable generation of minority students at elite colleges and then Yale Law School. Both benefited from affirmative action policies.

But that is where their similarities end, and their disagreements begin.
Sotomayor, as we all know by now, is fiercely proud of her Latina heritage. Thomas, if not actually ashamed of being African-American, at least does not want his racial heritage to affect his life, or his decisions, in any way.

Yet their early lives ran on amazingly parallel tracks, right down to the intense language study each of them did in order to learn to speak standard American English.

Still, the young Thomas, isolated from family and peers, grew increasingly disaffected at college. Drawing on statements in his autobiography, Kantor and Gonzales write, "Mr. Thomas learned he could rely only on himself."

By contrast Sotomayor, who recalls the warmth of her "Nuyorican" childhood, plunged into Hispanic studies and social groups at Princeton, gaining strength from her community.

Apparently Sotomayor plays well with others, and Thomas does not.

Some might argue that this makes Thomas the more objective judge. Others might label him the more selfish of the two--in college Sotomayor worked tirelessly on behalf of her community, whereas Thomas worked equally tirelessly on behalf of himself.

And yet, as the article points out, "both judges are passionate about minority success, dedicating countless hours to mentorship."

I hope Sonia Sotomayor joins Clarence Thomas on the bench. I don't for a moment think that one will be more or less objective than the other. Both have been shaped by deeply felt personal experiences; both are dedicated to equal justice for all. As the Court grows toward resembling all of us, Justice--once focused on elderly white males--can readjust her blindfold.

1 comment:

Mr. Neff said...

Sotomayor and Thomas are also Catholic. Thomas had a variety of childhood religious influences (Catholic, Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist) then became an Episcopalian and then converted to Roman Catholicism. Sotomayor's Catholicism has been confirmed by White House sources, but not yet explored. Which is "more" Catholic in experience? In belief? In values?