08/15/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Wise Women Unite! What Sotomayor Should Have Said

I suppose it's a good thing Sotomayor's confirmation hearings have been a little boring and uneventful. I keep waiting for the scandalous hidden love affair to emerge, but nothing. No affair, unpaid taxes, or skeletons to derail her confirmation -- hats off to the team that vetted her nomination.

What has become a sticking point, though, are Sotomayor's comments at Berkeley where she had the nerve to refer to herself as wise. If that weren't enough cause for alarm, she went on in the same speech to imply that she might reach a better decision than a white man in a similar position or faced with similar judicial questions. How dare she? Everyone knows white men set the bar when it comes to making fair and impartial decisions. They never allow their background or experience to influence their judgment.

In answering Senators Leahy and Sessions' concerns over her "troubling" wise Latina remark, she should have stood tall and defended her comments. Instead, she backed down. She offered that her comments were taken out of context and a bad joke that didn't go over well. She also pledged her undying commitment to the law and impartiality.

What she should have said however, was, I believe I am wise and like Justice O'Connor I am aware of how my experiences not only as a woman, but a Latino have not only made it more difficult for me to pursue and reach my goals in this country, but have shaped my worldview and perspective. I am standing here before you today as a Supreme Court justice nominee because it took wisdom from a very young age to navigate a system that was not designed for my success. In these rapidly changing times, it will take wisdom, prudence and a brilliant command of the law to help decide many of the important cases that will come before me as Justice. And I am prepared.

So, she didn't say these words because to do so would have been political and judicial suicide.

It is disingenuous to deny the role one's background, heritage, and experience play in one's perspective and decision-making. Racial and ethnic minorities and women are the only groups asked to check their identity at the door. It is assumed that once given access to power and resources, they will try to funnel those resources and power to their own kind. Sound familiar?

Sotomayor's nomination hearing is an important reminder of how far we still have to go in terms of incorporating the diverse range of experiences into our structures and institutions. Unless she has in the words of Senator Graham "a complete meltdown" or has the audacity to own her wisdom unapologetically, she will become the next Supreme Court Justice of the United States.