One of the prevalent anti-Sotomayor talking points on the right is that Judge Sotomayor uses race–not the letter of the law–to decide certain cases. This is the basis of the right’s ‘racism’ and ‘racialist’ attacks on Sotomayor–the assumption that she substitutes her background for the rule of law.
Of course, there is no evidence whatsoever that Judge Sotomayor actually does that. Conservatives will point to the Ricci case, where Judge Sotomayor–along with two other justices–agreed with a lower court ruling that the city of New Haven could throw out an aptitude test for promoting firefighters on the grounds that the test they were used was racially biased. But their decision was hardly controversial–they upheld a lower court’s decision that the city of New Haven could correct systematic racial bias.
A more revealing case to look at here is Judge Sotomayor’s dissent in Pappas v. Giuliani. Thomas Pappas was fired from the NYPD when they discovered he was sending racist and anti-Semitic literature through the mail while off-duty. Sotomayor’s colleagues upheld the firing, claiming that Pappas’ racist speech was of public concern and, therefore, interfered with the operations of the NYPD.
But Judge Sotomayor dissented, claiming that the NYPD infringed on Pappas’ freedom of speech by firing him for what he did while off-duty. That’s right–Judge Sonia Sotomayor sided with a white racist on 1st amendment grounds, which hardly sounds like the actions of a ‘racislist’ judge to me.
Of course, we all know that the right’s talking points aren’t grounded in reality. But Pappas v. Giuliani blows a huge hole in conservatives’ attempts to portray Judge Sotomayor as some kind of racist radical or Latino supremecist. Judge Sotomayor is a fair-minded justice who puts the law ahead of everything else. In one case, she sided with a group of minorities; in another, she sided with a white racist. To me, that’s a pattern not of racialism, but of respect for the rule of law.