Which is it Newt: Catholicism or the Constitution?
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jun 01, 2009 at 07:26:58 AM EST
Newly converted conservative Catholic Newt Gingrich is defining U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as a reverse racist, claiming that her ability to draw upon her heritage as a Hispanic woman makes her a proponent of "identity politics."

But the question I have for the thrice married, twice divorced former Speaker of the House of Representatives is whether Judge Sotomayor should engage in religious identity politics.

To say the least, I suspect that ole Newt would give us a rather interesting answer.

The Daily Howler's Bob Somerby calls it "the cult of the offhand comment." In the worldview of this peculiar cult,  our freedoms are not determined by deliberation and reason, but by the occasional short statement -- often spun out of context by GOP distributors -- as well as a mainstream press that is often too lazy to check the veracity of the talking points being sent to them. Somerby says, it has been a very useful tool for conservatives seeking to stop or slow down liberal change.

Unsurprisingly, the cult kicked into action in response to President Obama's choice of Federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gingrich and others seized on part of a speech given at The Niversity of California at Berkeley in 2001, in which Judge Sotomayor stated:

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, 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.

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

Gingrich immediately twisted the context of Judge Sotomayor's words, declaring, "Imagine a judicial nominee said 'my experience as a white man makes me better than a latina woman' new racism is no better than old racism."

An objective reading of Judge Sotomayer's statement within in its proper context demonstrates that she in no way was preaching any sort of Latina nationalism. My take was that we all have unique personal experiences that give each of us an ability to see things that others who do not share those experiences cannot see.

For example, I as an Italian-American male can see the legal prejudices visited upon Sacco and Vanzetti that adversely affected the outcome of their murder trials (run by the blatantly anti-Italian Yankee Brahmin Webster Thayer; Sacco and Vanzetti were subsequently executed) whereas as a White Protestant Male living in 1927 Dedham, Massachusetts might only see come-uppance being given to two radicals. As an attorney myself, ethnic identity insight used as a point of departure has its advantages in achieving justice.

But let's take Newt's proposition one step further, this time substituting religious identity for ethnic identity.  Add to that the question of abortion, specifically if the question of overturning Roe v. Wade comes before U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor. Must she now substitute her identity as a Catholic - and follow Church dogma - and on that basis alone, overturn a Roe?

Has Newt said as much? No. But prior to Obama's commencement speech at Notre Dame, he told Fox News: "To the degree that Notre Dame still thinks of itself as a Catholic institution, it raises real questions."

Does Catholicism's newest high profile convert believe that Sotomayor should substitute conservative religious orthodoxy for her legal judgment on Roe or any other matter?   It seems time for us to turn the tables on Gingrich.

...ask Newt the question that needs to be asked.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Jun 01, 2009 at 07:29:35 AM EST

I am sure that Gingrich's answer would be that the correct legal judgement is to overturn Roe vs Wade, so I doubt he's losing any sleep over being challenged with a question like that.

In any case, Newt is just about the most self-serving politician out there, so to think that there is any chance that turning the tables on him will have any effect whatsoever is a little naive.  He will just blather is way out of any corner we try to push him into.

Mind you, I'm all for keeping him in the spotlight.  While he and Limbaugh are sucking up all the oxygen in the Republican tent, there will be very little for any serious Republican to gain traction with.

by tacitus on Mon Jun 01, 2009 at 09:39:52 AM EST

Ol' Newt is not likely to answer it, though. Of course, Newt thinks Sonia Sotomayor should march in lockstep with the uninspiring and isolated hierarchy. The GOP is starting back with the march of sound bites and out of context comments and nasty attacks, which are some of the only things they excel at. They certainly don't excel at governing.

by khughes1963 on Mon Jun 01, 2009 at 09:10:58 AM EST

The racist fascist right have found that they can still get their one culture view of the world as long as the many and varied faces and genders are all monolithic in the way they narrowly interpret the Constitution and Bill of Rights. That is why they promote the idea of just one way to look at our views on human rights as a Bork would. Keep it in the past where women, blacks and others weren't equal to the landed gentry of white men. The spirit of it as they see it. As they want a white Christian theocratic nation-state.

by Nightgaunt on Tue Jun 23, 2009 at 01:09:23 PM EST

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