Sotomayor Sexism?

by Meredith O’Brien


Barring some kind of bombshell revelation, it seems inevitable that Judge Sonia Sotomayor will be confirmed by the Senate as the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Despite that reality, eyebrows were raised about some of the questions lawmakers posed to her during the Senate hearings, particularly regarding her demeanor and temperament as a judge, and whether the inquiries were made because she’s female.


The web site Feministing in a piece called, “Sotomayor is not meaner, just femaler,” quoted a former Yale Law School dean who said he’d looked into rumors that she was “overly aggressive” when dealing with lawyers at the Court of Appeals, but “found no difference at all” in the tone of Sotomayor’s questions and those of the male jurists. “I concluded that all that was going on was that there were some male lawyers who couldn’t stand being questioned toughly by a woman,” the dean said.


The political web site Talking Points Memo, in a post entitled, “Sen. Lindsey Graham Bullies Sotomayor – While Accusing Her of Being a Bully,” labeled the South Carolina’s senator’s hearing questions “aggressive,” specifically when he quoted anonymous lawyers who called the judge “a terror” and a bully, and then pointedly asked Sotomayor, “Do you think you have a temperament problem?” (She said, “No sir.”)


Regarding Sotomayor’s infamous and controversial 2001 “wise Latina” comment, (“I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”) Graham asked her to repeat the line aloud during a Senate hearing session. When she did not comply, Graham read it. Talking Points Memo’s Versha Sharma said, “The infantilizing questioning from Graham continued throughout the entire thread; he interrupted her answers multiple times, and made a theme out of asking her to explain her understanding of certain legal concepts and current events.”