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My Thoughts but Not My Words On Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings

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sotomayorSo this morning as I was driving my son to his last two weeks of preschool before we take some more vacation before he begins Kindergarten, I turned on the radio to NPR which I listen to quite often while in my car. Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings was in session. For the past few days, I have been getting updates of the hearings, mostly from the web, but also have had opportunities to listen to both the Republican and Democratic senators. From the short snippets that have heard, I can see that the Republicans came in with a clear agenda and clarity of thought on where they stood. The questions are pointed, the speeches clearly gave way to their ideologies and their thought processes and their hesitations about the nominee. I guess this is to be expected since it was a Democratic President who nominated her.

But. .  what about the Democrats. No one, as of yet has spoken clearly of the ideologies that drew me to continue to vote democratic. The people listening to these hearing are perceiving clear views of the Republicans, but from the Democrats, their views are very muddled and sometimes non-existent. It is just one of the thoughts running through my head recently. As I continue to reflect on last week’s Gospel lectionary passage in Mark 6 of John the Baptist in jail and then beheaded because he spoke clearly and openly his truths and his convictions, I wonder when will the Democratic senators begin speaking their truth in love.

Then sitting in this coffee shop, I read this email from Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun and the chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. Of course, his writings are far more eloquent, insightful and thought provoking than I could ever write, I whole heartedly agree with his analysis. He has given voice to some of my inner thoughts. Here is Rabbi Lerner’s thought in full:

Dems Blowing IT Again…at Sotomayor’s  Confirmation Hearings

By Rabbi Michael Lerner

The Senate Judiciary hearings could provide an opportunity for liberals to present their worldview to the millions of Americans listening in. But once again, they are showing that they have no such worldview except the worldview of not having a worldview!  It’s a stark contrast to the Republicans who unashamedly are asking Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor to swear loyalty to their perspectives on major political issues facing the court.

Yes, I know that the candidate has to pretend to think and act like a white upper-class man to get confirmation to the bench, and to have no political views shaping her judicial perspective.

But Democratic Senators could use their time to ask questions and make statements that explain why a liberal or progressive worldview is precisely what is needed on the Supreme Court.

Here’s the message they ought to be conveying if they had even the slightest backbone:

“We intend to vote for you, Judge Sotomayor. But we hope that you overcome this notion you’ve been putting forward that your task on the Supreme Court is simply to enforce the law. You see, we’ve been around for a while and heard the right-wing ideologues who currently dominate the Court say the same thing about judicial neutrality and opposition to judicial activism to this very Senate Judiciary Committee while they were seeking confirmation, and then go on to become the most activist justices with clear intent to override previous Supreme Court precedents and impose their right-wing agenda.  What we need on the court now are people who have some principles that they will fight for.

“If our system wanted judges who had no ideological commitments whatsoever, we would not have put the appointment of judges in the hands of a politically elected President of the United States. George Bush had no problem nominating right-wingers to the Court, and they have done all they could to overturn past precedents in favor of their worldview. The reason we are voting for you is that we hope President Obama picked someone who was not just a passive ratifier of precedent, but a creative thinker who could look at the needs of American society today and help shape laws that fit these new realities.

“In the past, nominee Sotomayor, the Court has done what it could to challenge the racism and sexism that have been a major part of American society. To do that, they’ve had to declare segregation and discrimination against women to be unconstitutional, though our Congress might still be debating those issues today if it hadn’t been for the courage of some liberal Justices in the past forty years. It’s no secret that the Republicans’ crusade against “activist judges” is a code word for opposition to judges who want to extend human rights and civil liberties to everyone. But we liberals want to do just that, and we want you, Sonia Sotomayor, to do that when you get to the Court.

“You’ll be facing an even more difficult challenge when you get to the Court: taking on the class biases that still shape legislation in the Congress and that have been part of past Supreme Court nominations. To take the classic one: the Supreme Court decision a hundred and thirty years ago to call corporations “persons” and interpret the 14th amendment, meant to protect former slaves, as protecting the so-called “rights” of corporations. From that has come a series of decisions that favor America’s rich and powerful at the expense of the American middle class. Ever since then, the Court has bent over backwards to twist the Constitution in ways that serve the interests of the rich and the powerful.  For example, when the Congress tried to put some restraints on the way that the rich can buy the legislation they want by spending endlessly to elect candidates to serve their interests, the Court said that “free speech” of corporations or the rich would be impeded by spending limits on campaigns. To tell us that you are going to be bound by these biased decisions of the past, because you “respect the precedents and must abide by them as a judge,” is to ignore the ways that the Court itself continually undermines the desires of the people when those desires conflict with the interests of the powerful. We hope that you will reverse that kind of judicial activism by an activism favoring the poor and America’s working families.

“Frankly, Judge Sotomayor, our only reservation about you is that you might follow the path of so many liberals in not fighting for your political principles. Or even worse, that you don’t have any such political principles anymore, that you’ve become so indoctrinated by the false notion that law is somehow impartial, when in fact law is made by human beings, and in this country the overwhelming majority of people who have made the laws of the past have been white rich men, and now white rich women, who know how to serve the interests of the people who donate the huge amounts of money that it takes to get elected in the U.S. to a Congressional, Senatorial or Presidential spot.  If so, you’ll only ensure that the right-wing bias of the Court remains unchallenged. We are hoping that underneath all this neutrality that you present to this committee, that you actually will be a champion for the ten of millions of Americans who have no one on the Court who cares about their well-being, rather than simply passively applying to new situations old laws made by rich white men who care more about corporate power than about the wel-being of ordinary Americans. Please remember that we who are voting for you are voting for change, not just for continuity and more of the same. Be as vigorous for a liberal worldview as the conservative on the court are for their right-wing worldview. It is our hope that that is who you really are, or else President Obama has made a terrible mistake in selecting you, and we will be making a mistake in confirming you!”

Of course, if there were Senators who could speak with this level of honesty, the country would be far better off, and the Democrats would have far greater support. But when they speak in the wimpy tones of people who have no convictions, they make many Americans feel that they can’t trust these Democrats, and that may contribute  to a revival of the political Right, something that would be very destructive to the entire world.  It’s moments like this that I mourn once again the loss of U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone, one of the few who had the courage of his convictions.

–Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine and chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives

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