Sotomayor and the Politics of Affirmative Action

06/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Trey Ellis Novelist, Screenwriter, and Associate Professor at Columbia University

Nothing gets the right wing's panties in a bunch more than a hyper-qualified person of color. And if that person happens to have a vagina...? Fuggedaboutit. Judge Sotomayor (a law school classmate of my mother's) was summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa at Princeton, and editor of the Yale Law School Journal, and yet the right still try to squawk that she's an intellectual lightweight, chosen purely because of her sex and the tint to her skin? Think Progress has a great rundown of their inanity including Karl Rove (University of Utah college dropout) braying, "I'm not really certain how intellectually strong she would be."

Oh really?

When a middling black student from Holy Cross goes on to Yale Law School, graduates in the middle of his class and is rated by the American Bar Association between "qualified" and "not qualified," the right festoons him with laurels. Clarence Thomas, you see, reaffirmed the comforting notions many in the right have about the supremacy of white maleness. George the First nominated him clearly because any black jurist would do and there he stands today, a reassuring beacon of black inferiority.

(I'm not saying that the first George Bush wouldn't have picked a more qualified black arch conservative if there had been one laying around. In matters of race the first George Bush wasn't such a bad egg.)

Nevertheless, for the far right his nomination was a wet dream and the humiliating effect on competent black folks is the same.

Sotomayor's been dealing with this crap for years. The LA Times reports today that in law school she sued a white-shoe Washington law firm for the exact same kind of white-male- supremacist attitudes the right is regurgitating her way right now.

The complaint resulted from a dinner conversation between Sotomayor and a Shaw Pittman partner, Martin Krall. According to news reports at the time, Krall asked her whether she would have been admitted to law school if she were not Puerto Rican and whether law firms did a disservice by hiring minority students with inferior credentials and then firing them a few years later.

Look, race is a factor in our nation. Our current President wouldn't have flourished in Chicago politics nor burst onto the national scene after his 2004 convention speech were it not for the color of his skin. During the last primaries, had their races been reversed, the more progressive John Edwards would probably have stolen Obama's base and President John McCain would now be carpet bombing Afghanistan. However what the President and judge Sotomayor show us is the excellence of the American melting pot. African-American, Hispanic-American and female exceptionalism.

It's enough to make Rove's head explode and Rush choke on his cigar.