Jim Sleeper: If You Join the Sotomayor 'Race' Debate....





In the 1980s, when Judge Sonia Sotomayor was on the board of New York's Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, I was a columnist critical of some PRLDEF initiatives on racial election districting and on police and fire department promotional exams.

I knew some PRLDEF staff but hadn't heard of Sotomayor, and since I've sworn off posting for awhile to write a book on other subjects, I don't know if she supported the specific suits I criticized. But it's likely, and, in response to some inquiries, I offer here some leads. (Also, my columns on Obama's handling of race in the 2008 campaign are in "Sleeper's Obama Chronicles.")

Republicans look ridiculous going into heat over Sotomayor's comments about her"Latina" perspectives. But that shouldn't stifle criticism by serious observers of positions she took at PRLDEF, or questions about whether her thinking has changed.

First, on what a"Latina" or other ethno-racial viewpoint should and shouldn't bring to court deliberations, here's an amusing, instructive assessment, in Dissent, drawn from my serving on New York juries.

In"Voting Wrongs," an important chapter of Liberal Racism that helped to change thinking about racial election-districting, I wrote pretty scathingly about a New York"Hispanic" congressional district in whose creation PRLDEF (and then-mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani!) played important roles.

I won't reprise those arguments here except to say that, at the time, such districts did little to increase their intended beneficiaries' turnouts at the polls and actually helped hand Congress to Republicans. Mayoral candidate Giuliani rode an Amtrak train to Washington with PRLDEF representatives and ushered them into the Justice Department (where he'd been associate attorney general under Reagan) to assist their successful bid for an Hispanic district. Many Republicans loved the left's color-coding strategy here, at least tactically. To follow what was at stake in it, do read this chapter.

This is also the place to mention that another chapter of Liberal Racism describes at some length the legal and political odyssey of , Harvard Law School Prof. Randall Kennedy, who tellingly (and, I think, very wisely) challenged what was known as" critical race theory" in legal studies when Obama was a student at the law school.

Regarding exams for cops and firefighters, on pages 162-4 of The Closest of Strangers, I took issue some of the reasoning behind challenges by PRLDEF and others to such exams.

Look these up if you're going to weigh in on the confirmation hearings.

And, again, I've collected my TPM columns on Obama's handling of race throughout the 2008 campaign as"Sleeper's Obama Chronicles." Posted from the morning after the New Hampshire primary of January 8, 2008 through Inauguration Day, these trace the evolution of my and many other people's thinking about Obama's candidacy and his handling of charges involving race, elitism, exoticism, and more.

If you or anyone you know is writing a book or article on the campaign, you'll want these columns. They include assessments of what other commentators --Shelby Steele (1 column), Sean Wilentz (2 columns), and leftist academic critics of Obama (2) -- were saying about his handling of race. They also assess Louis Farrakhan's unwanted endorsement, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's comment about whites who" cling to guns and God," and Obama's speech on race in Philadelphia.

Other titles suggest their contents:"Obama, Crowds, And Power","Obama: Neo-Liberal or Civic-Republican?" There are also two classic columns on Republicans --"Why Giuliani Really Shouldn't be President," -- a column that played a critical role in turning the chattering classes against his bid -- and"Yoo Es Ay! Yoo Es Ay!" on the 2008 Republican National convention.

Also included in the"Obama Chronicles" are comments that others made about the columns in the New York Times "Opinionator," The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the website of neo-con Obama-basher Daniel Pipes.

Finally, I'll mention that I've also collected my eight TPM columns on Israel, Gaza, and how and how not to report on Israel-Palestine. At last, they're all in one place, along with a link to a 20-minute NPR interview I did on them.

Sorry not to be able to offer more on the Sotomayor debate, but I'd better get back to work.




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