Sonia Sotomayor has broken quite a few barriers in her life. If
she is confirmed as a Supreme Court justice--as seems likely--she
will become the first Puerto Rican to sit on the high court. She
may even become the first justice to come from one of the Bronx's
notorious government housing projects. She will not, however, be
the first Hispanic, nor the first Latin.
You may ask before reading on, why is that important? It
wouldn't be, in a rational world. But it has been Judge Sotomayor
herself, as well as her supporters, trumpeting her ethnic bona
fides. The judge, moreover, has consistently displayed a weakness
for the grievance industry that parallels our hodge-podge of ethnic
labels. By insisting - not just in a single quote, but over a
lifetime of activism - that her background permits her to use the
rules of logic differently, Sotomayor has invited scrutiny on just
what these labels really mean.
First let's dispense with the claims for the Hispanic and Latin
landmarks. The first "honor" belongs to Benjamin Cardozo, who was
appointed to the Supreme Court in 1932 by Herbert Hoover. The
second goes to Antonin Scalia, nominated in 1986 by Ronald
Cardozo, whose four grandparents belonged to the Spanish and
Portuguese Jewish community, would qualify today as "Hispanic"
under current Census Bureau definitions. His religion is
Latin is of older vintage and does have some ethnic and
linguistic cohesion. It, however, covers slightly larger ground
than just Puerto Rico and Mexico, and takes in all the countries in
Europe where Romance languages are spoken. Thus Scalia (and now
These labels, of course, are meaningless in determining whether
someone can identify logical fallacies in an argument. In the case
of Hispanic, the term itself is almost worthless in determining
even one's origin.
The Census says Hispanic is a smorgasbord, applying to people
who "may be of any race" or religion, and whose origins can be in
whole or in part from Europe, Africa, Asia or the New World, as
long as their ancestors transited through Iberia or Latin
So even if Judge Sotomayor was right when she infamously said
that "inherent physiological or cultural differences" may affect
judging, being "Hispanic" would determine exactly nothing.
Even if we took Hispanic to mean only Latin Americans of any
race (the more conventional view), can we really say that people as
different as Guatemalans, Argentines and Dominicans will reason
similarly, and use the rules of logic differently from others? What
quickly becomes apparent when one plows through in-depth articles
on Judge Sotomayor is that the determining trait supposedly making
her empathetic is not being Hispanic, but growing up poor.
Journalists and commentators often conflate the two terms, as if
all Puerto Ricans grew up in the barrio.
Experience, of course, does count for something. My searing
childhood memories of watching my parents struggle with a
totalitarian regime in Cuba made me an uncompromising defender of
human freedom. I suppose that does help me in my job today as VP of
communications at The Heritage Foundation. But there's nothing
genetic in a trait I share with Chinese as well as Czechs.
Judge Sotomayor, however, takes hollow ethnic labels very
Indeed, she has made a career of demanding that they be used as
the foundation for preferences in hiring. As a college sophomore in
1973, she asked the federal government to push the Ivy League
school that had admitted her, Princeton, to accept quotas and time
tables for the hiring of Puerto Rican and Mexican faculty.
Sotomayor, however, appears not to have thought through one of
the most pernicious consequences of racial preferences - that they
leave those who benefit from such preferences uncertain about their
achievements. Small wonder then, that at Yale Law School in 1978
she took umbrage to a question posed by a recruiter from a
Washington law firm.
What was the racist remark that made her complain to the dean,
and forced the law firm to apologize? The recruiter dared ask,
"Would you have been admitted to the law school if you were not a
Ah ... that must have stung. But what on earth did Sotomayor
expect? What else can possibly result from racial preferences? When
one asks universities, companies and governments to consider one's
ethnicity, one is asking that merit not be the sole deciding factor
in the hiring process. Is it then not entirely fair for a recruiter
to ponder, "Would merit alone have gotten you here?"
In a 2001 speech Judge Sotomayor famously said, "Each day on the
bench I learn something new about the judicial process and about
being a professional Latina woman in a world that sometimes looks
at me with suspicion."
It's a shame that Judge Sotomayor has gone through life thinking
that American society views her with suspicion. But she's in a bed
she made for herself by insisting that people with certain labels
be given special preferences. Whatever the case, do we really want
someone with this mindset to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court?
Gonzalez, a former reporter and editor at the Wall Street
Journal, is vice president of communications at The Heritage
Foundation. He served in the Bush administration from