Why Sotomayor Isn’t an Affirmative-Action Justice

I can't imagine what it must be like to be a white man nowadays. Spending years of your life preparing to be a Supreme Court justice—attending the right schools, slogging your way through state supreme courts, appeals courts and circuit courts, writing opinions, writing dissents and finally when an opening appears, the choice goes to another equally qualified candidate based on her race and gender.

Oh, wait! I can imagine it. As a black woman in the professional world, I'm very familiar with the concept, and not just because I've studied it in school. For every highly coveted position such as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a Supreme Court justice, there are inevitably a number of qualified candidates. Thus, when one is chosen; there are a lot of equally qualified and disappointed candidates left over. That's the way the world works. Just because a person is female or of color does not mean that some magic affirmative-action fairy gave them their career and left a white male starving in a ditch somewhere.

This is why all the discussions about whether President Obama's pick for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, was chosen just because she is a Hispanic woman drive me nuts. Yes, the fact that she's a Latina makes a difference in what she brings to the bench, but let's not overlook the fact that she'd be qualified for the job even if she were a white man. As a Second Circuit Court of Appeals judge for more than a decade, we can assume that she has at least some of the appropriate skills to be a Supreme Court justice. There is also, of course, the matter of her graduation summa cum laude from Princeton and at the top of her class from Yale Law School. (And that was in the '70s, before grade inflation.)

But when she sits down for those hearings in front of the cameras and the country, the lingering question will still be "Did she get into all those great schools just because of her race?" It's infuriating to me that a woman as competent as Sotomayor will have to prove she deserves her nomination while a white-male colleague with the same résumé can skip that step and go straight his judicial philosophy. I'm no stranger to those kinds of questions, spoken or unspoken. I'm a black woman who attended Yale, not because the school needed more black folk but because I was a fantastic candidate. Yes, that sounds arrogant, but it has the virtue of being true. I thrived in college, and I'm not doing too bad for myself now. If people want to think I stole my admissions letter from a better applicant, that's their opinion, but it shouldn't be my problem. It is laughable to think that being a black or Hispanic woman puts you at any kind of advantage over white males. Seriously, it's ridiculous. When Judge Sotomayor walks into her confirmation hearing, she will be facing a Senate Judiciary Committee composed of 17 white men and 2 white women—if there is an affirmative-action fairy, she sucks at her job.

Allowing a few qualified contenders who are neither white nor male is not going to destroy the fabric of American life. In fact, the opposite is true. It is time for our hallowed institutions to look like the country it works for. And can I just add, white males have gotten the jobs over at the Supreme Court 96 percent of the time. That's nothing to be ashamed of … seriously, you guys are doing really well. Don't misunderstand me, I like white men—I even married one—but the assumption that they're naturally the best candidate for everything, and we're doing anyone else a favor if we give them a desirable job is a bit much.

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