The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States by President Barack Obama has electrified the Hispanic community in America. Now the largest minority group in the United States, Hispanic-Americans have long sought their piece of the American dream in this land of possibility in which all, except Native Americans, are recent immigrants. The nomination of the first Hispanic woman to the nation’s highest court on May 26 is another milestone in the recognition of the pluralism of our society.
Latina, the upscale lifestyle magazine, celebrated Judge Sotomayor’s nomination on May 26 with this opening paragraph:
“Today’s historic nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court from the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has had a huge impact on Latina staffers. It is yet another concrete reminder that anything is possible.”
But the jubilation was short-lived as Latina continued:
“But as we celebrate such a huge leap for both women and Latinos, we are reminded of the uglier side of politics by racist right-wingers like Rush Limbaugh, who discussed Judge Sotomayor on his radio show today and proclaimed, “Do I want her to fail? Yeah. Do I want her to fail to get on the court? Yes. She’d be a disaster on the Court.”
Limbaugh was not alone in attacking Judge Sotomayor, Latina noted. Mike Huckabee, former Baptist preacher and presidential candidate, issued this statement according to Latina:
“The appointment of Maria Sotomayor for the Supreme Court is the clearest indication yet that President Obama’s campaign promises to be a centrist and think in a bipartisan way were mere rhetoric.”
Of course, Huckabee’s statement erroneously identified Judge Sotomayor as Maria, rather than Sonia. Latina replied with a good-humored, but pointed jab at Huckabee:
“One huge problem there, Mike! Her name isn’t Maria. Contrary to popular belief, every Latina in the United States isn’t named Maria. We’ll forgive you. We’re sure you were just watching West Side Story last night in preparation for this statement and got confused.”
While the Washington Post reported that Republicans were withholding criticism of Sotomayor, other political analysts offered a real-world perspective. The New York Times quotes Matthew Dowd, former adviser to George W. Bush, as saying Republicans do not want to be perceived as opposing the nomination of the first Hispanic woman to the Supreme Court:
“Because you’ll have a bunch of white males who lead the Judiciary Committee leading the charge taking on an Hispanic woman and everybody from this day forward is going to know she’s totally qualified,” he said. “It’s a bad visual. It’s bad symbolism for the Republicans.”
Dowd commented that in the future Republicans will have to win 40 percent of the Hispanic vote to capture the White House. John McCain took less than 35 percent in the 2008 election.
Sotomayor’s nomination hearings this summer promise to be interesting viewing. But, what seems to be lost in the negative responses to Judge Sotomayor’s nomination is a sense of decency that should pervade the Senate’s advise-and-consent process. Beyond the politics of why any senator should or should not back Sotomayor, she deserves to be treated with respect.
Americans have seen the ugly face of fear and accusation taint other proceedings in our nation’s history. During the Senate Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954, Sen. Joseph McCarthy relentlessly badgered the Army’s chief legal representative, Joseph Nye Welch. Finally, exasperated with McCarthy’s false accusations about a colleague, Welch faced down McCarthy with these courageous words:
“Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”
Those hearings and the American public’s ultimate rejection of McCarthy, led to the censure of the right-wing senator from Wisconsin. It is decency that was needed that day in that Senate hearing room. Americans should demand today, as Joseph Welch did then, a sense of decency at long last.
Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Virginia.