WASHINGTON—Followers of Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court confirmation hearings were witness to a now familiar phenomenon. Women are treated differently than men in such settings.
To wit: Questions posed to Sotomayor about her temperament—is she a bully?—wouldn't likely be posed to a similarly qualified man.
Judicial temperament is a legitimate concern, of course. But watching Sotomayor take questions about her moods from the nearly all-male Senate Judiciary Committee, one couldn't help wondering how those same fellows would hold up under similar scrutiny while a roomful of women took aim at their ... fortitude.
Obviously, we're talking about Republican chaps. Democrats were practically tossing raiment over puddles as they lobbed loving little queries her way.
It's hard to figure what Republicans could have been thinking. It's nearly a foregone conclusion that Sotomayor will be confirmed. Essentially attacking her personality is, at minimum, bad political strategy. The first Latina to rise to the highest bench with a record of accomplishment few can match isn't the best person for target practice when Hispanic voters are the golden means to a political future.
Senators also hammered Sotomayor about her ethnic identification and whether she could rule fairly without undue influence from her gender or political preferences. Wait, let me guess, you're White Guys! Are we to infer that males of European descent are never unduly influenced by their own ethnicity, gender or political preferences? Can anyone affirm this assertion with a straight face?
When your party looks like a Wonder Bread convention during flu season, picking on ethnic identity and sex seems an unbrilliant way to proceed. Yet, these same gentlemen don't understand how Sotomayor could have expressed the thought that she, as a Latina, might be able to reach a wiser decision than a white male?
Sotomayor's explanation about that unfortunate remark, distorted in importance through endless repetition, seemed reasonable enough. She was trying to inspire her audience of mostly minority women. Anyone who has given hundreds of speeches—or even dozens—will wind up saying something regrettable.
But a few random comments extricated from the contexts of time and place, not to mention audience, is evidence unbecoming a fair judge in assessing another's character and body of work.
More troubling were questions based on anonymous hearsay aimed at Sotomayor's bench personality. Here's what women hear when men ask a female candidate about her temperament: "Are you really the bitch everybody says you are?"
Men can be temperamental and still be great; women are merely impossible to deal with. Why is that? While Sotomayor is pondering some of the Deep Thoughts suggested by her interrogators, perhaps those same wise blancos might give that question some reflection.
Deny as we might, the whole package of an individual being scrutinized for any position—from cashier to Supreme Court justice—includes appearance, personality and likability as well as qualifications, character and intelligence. It's our nature.
Which explains in part why the same Republican men who can't quite bring themselves to accept Sotomayor still swoon over their party's last vice presidential candidate. Extrapolate at your own whim—and risk.
I don't doubt that Republicans are sincerely concerned about how Sotomayor views such issues as gun ownership, abortion rights, executive power and eminent domain—core issues that divide us. To that end, consideration of Sotomayor's affiliations, rulings and public statements was all fair game.
But pounding her on her ethnic identity and temperament collapses the high road Republicans like to claim and betrays an intuitive vacuum that suggests, dare I say it, a lack of empathy.
I say this both with disappointment (I'm partial to men) and, yes, concern. I'm disappointed when men play the B card, by inference, if not explicitly. It concerns me that the Democratic Party may not have enough worthy adversaries in the coming years to save us from the tyranny of sustained one-party rule.
If confirmed, Sotomayor soon will blend into the folds of black robes as all the others have, and few will remember what the fuss was about. Something about a wise Latina. Did she wink?
But those who picked the wrong battles during her confirmation, reminding Americans that they are blind to their own biases and attitudes, may find themselves increasingly lonely in that great big tent.