Monday, July 13, 2009

Whites Only, Men Only

Listening to Southern Senator Jeff Sessions blast USSC nominee Sonia Sotomayor for applying empathy and personal life experience in her role as a judge is a first-rate immersion in GOP intellectual dishonesty.

I agree with the definition given at that link, which says in part:

Intellectual dishonesty is dishonesty in performing intellectual activities like thought or communication. Examples are:

the advocacy of a position which the advocate knows or believes to be false or misleading

the conscious omission of aspects of the truth known or believed to be relevant in the particular context.

Rhetoric is used to advance an agenda or to reinforce one's deeply held beliefs in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence

The conscious omission of relevant aspects of the truth, and the advocacy of a position the advocate knows to be misleading are mainstays of the rhetoric of the Right. I hear examples of these things all the time and in fact would argue that these are policies of Fox News.

In this case, Sessions's argument that no judge ought should employ his or her life experience or powers of empathy on the bench depends for its impact on the unspoken contention that white men never apply empathy or life experience in their judicial decisionmaking. Much of early American legal history is nothing but the result of white male experience applied in empathy to other white males. What else can we calk the arguments that only white male landowners should be entitled to vote, that African slaves were only 3/5ths human, and that women, like dogs and horse carriages, were chattel, the possessions of men?

All these positions have at one time or another been embedded in US law. Not coincidentally, those were times when neither people of color nor women were at the bar, let alone on the bench.

And so it is clear that the problem eating at Sessions isn't the application of empathy and experience to judicial decisionmaking. His problem, in intellectually honest terms, has to do only with whose empathy and experience will be applied.

I hope that American women and people of color are listening carefully to the senators debate Sotomayor's nomination and are noting that Senator Sessions is calling this the conservative, Republican perspective. Their message is that if they have their way, none but privileged white males--and those who annihilate their own life differences in order to be as much like privileged white males as possible--ever need apply.