“Here’s the Supreme Court, let’s go!” I alerted my daughter, Mary. We jumped off the D.C. tour bus and joined the sightseers braving the blustery Washington weather.
As we were swooped along with the crowd, it was a wonderful coincidence that the first woman U.S. Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, was being sworn in that day in 1981. We were seated in the chamber.
My recollection is particularly vivid today, and the excitement and emotion of that moment remains heartfelt. In a world where the philosophies of politics and jurisprudence many times butt heads, we know that history-making crystallizes in a far distant future. Where we might easily ask O’Connor: “How did you do?” we quiz Sonia Sotomayor with “How will you do?” They both come out of intense scrutiny that SCOTUS Blog describes as “almost a cottage industry as the far left and far right either brutalize or lionize ‘their’ candidate.”
In its truest sense, the selection process is serious business and imperative to our highest and best governance as a nation.
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Common sense and a bit of humor needs to prevail when we listen to some of the choice comments that grow into bones of contention or historical sound bites. With his most bitter condemnation, Jerry Falwell warned his followers that “every good Christian should oppose Sandra Day O’Connor.” Whereupon, Sen. Barry Goldwater responded with, “Every good Christian should kick Falwell’s ass.” Thus goeth our No. 1 Constitutional amendment.
Moving ahead to 2009, we find O’Connor’s words mingled with Sotomayor’s, seemingly in matters gender. Or is it ethnic, or is it intelligence?
“A wise old woman and a wise old man will usually find agreement in matters of judgment,” said the elder jurist. Words which evoked Sotomayor’s now famous or infamous statement, “A wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” Those words produced a giant analytical firestorm that she contends was a casually offhand remark that “fell flat” and was seriously misinterpreted. By now everyone knows that jurists are not legislators.
What distills from this episode is the word “wisdom,” a sacred gift that one earns by the application of knowledge, understanding and spiritual fortitude. Ghandi says, “It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom.” If you think you’re wise, you probably aren’t. It’s a work in progress.
What I sense here is not conservative, liberal or personal. It is more about how things are said than what is said. O’Connor tempered her wise woman with the word “old.”
She drew her male counterpart in through mentioning agreement. I could almost see her gentle smile.
It’s definitely unwise to insult another’s intelligence.
With all that sparkle and enthusiasm, Sotomayor’s comment was unnecessary. Take out the “white” and insert “unwise” and you might level the hurt a little.
But, above all, don’t smile.