Sizing Up Judge Sotomayor

I take issue with Dana Milbank’s assertion about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor [Washington Sketch, May 27] that “in selecting Sotomayor, Obama opted for biography over brain.” This conclusion flies in the face of Judge Sotomayor’s outstanding academic and judicial record.

Judge Sotomayor brings to the table an impressive combination of both inspiring biography and privileged intellect. Mr. Milbank failed to mention that Judge Sotomayor is a formidable Ivy Leaguer in her own right. She graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and went on to earn her law degree at Yale University, where she served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal.

Furthermore, as the White House noted when the nomination was announced, Judge Sotomayor will bring more federal judicial experience at the time of her appointment to the Supreme Court than any justice in 100 years, and more overall judicial experience than anyone confirmed for the court in the past 70 years.

In sum, the people of Puerto Rico, citizens of Hispanic origin throughout the land and all Americans should be justifiably proud — and confident of the fact that the president has made a very worthy, meritorious selection to the nation’s highest judicial body.



Court Watch: An Analysis of Sotomayor’s Decisions on Race-Related Cases

By Garance Franke-Ruta
The indispensable SCOTUSBlog, from the Washington-based firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, has published an analysis of every race-related decision made by appellate Judge Sonia Sotomayor, finding that she rarely disagreed with her colleagues on cases involving claims of discrimination.

Meanwhile, has aggregated the latest surveys and found a huge gender gap in favor of Sotomayor among female Republicans as compared with male members of the GOP, but no dramatic gender difference among Democrats.

Tom Goldstein, a partner at Akin Gump who has argued more than 20 cases before the Supreme Court, writes: “Other than Ricci, Judge Sotomayor has decided 96 race-related cases” while on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. The reference is to the well-publicized case Ricci v. DeStefano, which involved a promotion exam for New Haven, Conn., firefighters. The case is now under review by the Supreme Court.

“Of the 96 cases, Judge Sotomayor and the panel rejected the claim of discrimination roughly 78 times and agreed with the claim of discrimination 10 times,” he continued; “the remaining 8 involved other kinds of claims or dispositions. Of the 10 cases favoring claims of discrimination, 9 were unanimous.”

“Of the roughly 75 panel opinions rejecting claims of discrimination, Judge Sotomayor dissented 2 times,” Goldstein writes.

“The numbers relating to unpublished opinions continued to hold as well. In the roughly 55 cases in which the panel affirmed district court decisions rejecting a claim of employment discrimination or retaliation, the panel published its opinion or order only 5 times,” Goldstein writes.

“In sum, in an eleven-year career on the Second Circuit, Judge Sotomayor has participated in roughly 100 panel decisions involving questions of race and has disagreed with her colleagues in those cases (a fair measure of whether she is an outlier) a total of 4 times. … Given that record, it seems absurd to say that Judge Sotomayor allows race to infect her decisionmaking.”

And’s Margie Omero writes: “Yesterday I posted on some Gallup data on voter reactions to Sotomayor. Quinnipiac released new data today, and both Gallup and Quinnipiac were nice enough to share party by gender crosstabs. These data continue to show that women, particularly Republican women, respond strongly to Sotomayor’s nomination. …

“In the Gallup poll, both Democratic and Republican women are more supportive of Sotomayor than their Democratic counterparts. The difference is more modest among Democrats (men: +46 ‘excellent/good pick’ minus ‘only fair/poor’ pick; women: +54). Among Republicans the difference is sizable (men: -44; women: -11).

“The Quinnipiac poll is consistent. There is no difference in the ratings of Democratic men (+74 ‘approve’ minus ‘disapprove’) and Democratic women (+76). But Republican women are almost evenly divided on Sotomayor’s nomination (-9), while Republican men are more decidedly disapproving (-39).”

Nuyoricans bask in the spotlight

Thanks to Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Americans may have to start wrapping their tongues and minds around a word that has nothing to do with abortion rights or the 2nd Amendment, but a lot to do with the country’s evolving ethnic and cultural profile: Nuyorican.

Referring to a person of Puerto Rican parentage or heritage born and (usually) raised in New York City, or to the culture of that group, it’s a term that the Bronx-born judge embraces proudly. The word, a phonetic hybrid of English and Spanish that’s pronounced new-yoh-REE-ken, and sometimes spelled Neorican or Newyorican, is familiar to New Yorkers, especially those connected to the culture of the Lower East Side, the South Bronx or Spanish Harlem.

But it appears to have clanked off the ears of some non-New Yorkers who perhaps were hearing the term for the first time this week. Already, bloggers are feuding about the correct spelling of the word, which the Washington Post, among other outlets, has written as “Newyorkrican,” a spelling that fails to recognize the redundant, hard-sounding “k” in “york,” which no native Spanish speaker would be likely to pronounce.However it’s said, Nuyorican, both as a word and as a culture, is a rich blend of influences. And like any complex blend, it’s not without a few tart elements. Arnaldo Cruz-Malavé, a professor of Spanish and comparative literature at Fordham College at Lincoln Center in Manhattan, said the term originally was a pejorative coined by Puerto Ricans living on the Caribbean island to identify Puerto Ricans living in New York, the preferred destination of those who moved to the mainland during the middle part of the 20th century. “When I was a child, no one ever said, ‘Oh, you’re moving to the United States.’ They said, ‘You’re moving to New York.’ New York was the United States,” said Cruz-Malavé, who was born in San Sebastián in northwest Puerto Rico (many of whose residents actually moved to Chicago, he said). Sotomayor’s parents were born in Puerto Rico after passage of a 1917 law that automatically conferred U.S. citizenship on island-born residents, so technically they and others like them were not “immigrants” to New York. An estimated 800,000 people of Puerto Rican descent live in metropolitan New York City. But in the eyes of many Puerto Ricans who remained on the island, those who left during the so-called Gran migración (Great Migration) between the 1930s and 1960s, and their children, traded their native language and culture for the adopted customs of the U.S. They were perceived to have forsaken Spanish for English, salsa for doo-wop, rice and beans for hot dogs and pizza and a dynamic centuries-old Afro-Caribbean-indigenous heritage for Anglo pop culture. What’s more, Nuyoricans (also called neorriqueños) were often perceived by puertorriqueños as being likely to favor U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico, a hot-button issue dating to the United States’ annexation of Puerto Rico and other former Spanish territories at the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Although Nuyorican political loyalties tended to be far more mixed, Cruz-Malavé said, the stereotype persisted. Iván Román, the Bronx-born son of Puerto Rican immigrants who is executive director of the National Assn. of Hispanic Journalists in Washington, D.C., said that when he was growing up in Brooklyn in the 1960s and early ’70s, distinctions between Nuyorican and Puerto Rican youth centered on matters of style and taste. “It had to do with how you dressed and what language was your primary language and what music you listened to,” he said. In the 1970s, as New York and other U.S. cities were suffering through crime waves, crumbling social infrastructure and the economic aftershocks of soaring oil prices, a reverse migration occurred as large numbers of Nuyoricans began moving back to the island in search of jobs and housing. Román’s family settled in what was then a small town outside the capital of San Juan, and he and his two sisters quickly embraced Puerto Rican culture in a process of reverse-assimilation shared by others. Meanwhile, back in New York, a cultural Nuyorican movement was underway, building on such founding texts as “A Puerto Rican in New York” by Jesús Colón. In the mid-1970s, a group of academics, artists and sundry bohemians led by Shakespeare scholar Miguel Algarín and playwright and actor Miguel Piñero, among others, established the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the East Village. (Some of their exploits are depicted in the 2001 feature film “Piñero,” starring Benjamin Bratt.) The late Latin jazz legend Tito Puente and actor Jennifer Lopez are among the New York-bred children of Puerto Rican parents whose talents merged different cultural traditions. The cafe remains highly active today, showcasing artists of many backgrounds and promoting slam poetry and other hybrid cultural forms that reflect its dual parentage, said executive director Daniel Gallant. “For Puerto Rican New Yorkers, the cafe holds a very strong place in everyone’s identity. It harkens back to a vital juncture of those two cultures.” Partly through demographic changes, partly through cultural shifts, Nuyoricans began to reclaim the term used to describe them and give it a positive spin, much as Mexican Americans gradually did with the term “Chicano.” The greatest evidence that Nuyorican, both as a concept and a social reality, is now viewed positively both on and off the island may have come this week, when many Puerto Ricans cheered Sotomayor’s nomination. Some even paid her the compliment of declaring her to be “Boricua,” a term of prideful self-identification used by Puerto Rican islanders that derives from the country’s Taíno Indian heritage. “We need to expand our view of what it is to be Puerto Rican,” Román said. “We’re not in a box anymore.”

Would Sotomayor really be the first Supreme Court Latino?

Reporting from Chicago — When President Obama nominated federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, ethnic advocacy groups praised the selection of the first Latino to the nation’s highest court.

Yet some political opponents, such as Republican strategist Karl Rove, sought to downplay the nomination’s significance by pointing out that Benjamin N. Cardozo, who served on the Supreme Court in the 1930s, was born to parents who claimed Portuguese descent. So did that make him the first Latino?

  • Sotomayor's story

The question since has been hotly debated in the blogs and other media. Then on Thursday, the Pew Hispanic Center issued a report that said Sotomayor, whose parents were Puerto Rican, is indeed the first Latino Supreme Court nominee. But the authors added that the category depends on how people define themselves, meaning that Cardozo might argue differently were he still alive.

If that sounds confusing, consider the fact that “Hispanic” is a word made up by federal bureaucrats preparing for the 1980 U.S. census, in an attempt to categorize what was becoming an increasingly diverse population of residents with roots in “Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico” and other Spanish-speaking places, according to the Pew report.

Jeffrey Passel, a senior researcher who co-wrote the study, said that initial efforts to define who might fit into such a category faltered.

“People didn’t really know what the word meant . . . and that seemed to be true of Hispanics and non-Hispanics,” he said.

By the mid-1980s, however, the term was used widely enough to make it into the Oxford English Dictionary, which partly defines it as “pertaining to Spain or its people.” The first definition in Webster’s New World is “Spanish or Spanish-and-Portuguese,” adding force to the argument that Cardozo was Hispanic.

In fact, 12% of America’s small Portuguese population and about 15% of Brazilian immigrants identified themselves as “Hispanic” in the 1980 census. Those responses dropped to 1% and 4% in 2007, Passel said.

In the 1980s, a decade in which U.S. involvement in Latin America’s civil wars fanned historical resentment over imperialism and the Spanish conquest, the term “Hispanic” was rejected by activists who preferred to call themselves “Latino.” That word “has much more, in its roots, the indigenous connotation as well as the Spanish connotation of the people from Latin America,” said Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum.

The term was coined in Chicago, Puente said. Although initially used mainly on the East Coast, it gained enough traction elsewhere in the country during the 1990s to be included along with “Hispanic” in 2000 census questions.

But, because the Census Bureau does not confirm respondents’ heritage, anyone can say they’re Hispanic/Latino.

“It really depends on how you feel about yourself,” said Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy in New York.

And that brings the issue back to Cardozo. When he was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1932, the New York-born justice was embraced by the Jewish community there as a son of Sephardic Jews, which is how his parents identified themselves.

Today, he might have recognized the political advantages of identifying himself with the nation’s fastest-growing demographic group, Passel said.

“We don’t know because he’s not alive to tell us,” he said.

Nelson de Castro, the Portuguese consul general in Chicago, said that “in the context of the United States,” most descendants of Portuguese immigrants “see themselves as Hispanic.”

But he said the Portuguese in general might see it differently.

“First and foremost,” he said, “the Portuguese identify themselves as European.”

Off Duty Cop Shot by Another Cop While Trying to Catch a Suspect!

This young servant of the law is Officer Omar J. Edwards. He was shot and killed by another cop while chasing a suspect: A plainclothes policeman who drew his gun while chasing someone he had found rummaging through his car was shot and killed by a fellow officer who was driving by and saw the pursuit, the police commissioner said. Commissioner Raymond Kelly said 25-year-old Omar J. Edwards died after being shot late Thursday within blocks of the Harlem police station where he worked. The shooter was white and Edwards was black, a fact that could raise questions about police use of deadly force in a minority community. And in recent years there have been several cases of off-duty policemen in the New York City area being shot and killed by other officers. Edwards had just finished his shift around 10:30 p.m. when he headed to his car and saw that the driver’s-side window had been smashed and a man was going through the vehicle, Kelly said. Edwards struggled with the man, who got away from him by slipping out of his sweater, Kelly said. Edwards chased the man up two streets with his gun drawn, he said. A sergeant and two plainclothes officers in an unmarked police car saw the pursuit and made a U-turn to follow the men, Kelly said. One of the officers jumped out of the car and fired six times, hitting Edwards twice — once in the arm and once in the chest, he said.

Report: Racism towards Asian Americans persists

More than eight years after their revealing report on perceptions of Asian Americans, the Committee of 100 (C-100) released “Still the “Other?”: Public Attitudes Toward Chinese and Asian Americans, conducted by Harris Interactive.

The report indicates that, despite a positive trend in attitudes toward Asian Americans, racial discrimination and suspicions still exist. An underlying current throughout the survey results is the recognition that – even in 2009 – the majority of the general population cannot make a distinction between Chinese Americans and Asian Americans in general, treating all as one generic, monolithic ethnic group, with 28 percent or more saying they rarely or never interact with Asian Americans.

“Race is not black and white – literally nor figuratively. Whatever our own individual backgrounds or political preferences, the facts are clear – the face of the nation is changing as it never has before,” said Frank H. Wu, vice chair for research at C-100 and the author of Yellow: Race In America Beyond Black and White. “As we strive to make good on the American Dream that attracted so many of us and our ancestors, we must see our shared interests in advancing civil rights principles. All of us benefit from the principles of diversity and inclusion. We cannot succeed without bridge building.”

“However,” said Wu, “at a time when some pundits claim that America has moved beyond race, this survey shows that there is broad ignorance of significant populations of Americans.”

” In the absence of real information, harmful stereotypes still render Asian Americans as ‘Other’ outsiders to our democracy,” said Helen Zia, vice chair for media at C-100 and the author of Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of An American People. “This survey underscores how our whole society benefits when attitudes and policies are based on factual knowledge and attitudes that allow for the full participation of all Americans.”

A PDF copy of the report, which includes recommendations based on findings, is available here.

Some of the survey findings contained in the report:

– Despite the approximately 59,141 Asian Americans serving in active duty in the U.S. Armed Services, and the more than 300 Asian Americans who have been injured or died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, there are still suspicions about the loyalty of Asian Americans. Among the general population, 45 percent believe Asian Americans are more loyal to their countries of ancestry than to the United States, up from 37 percent in the 2001 survey.

–While the Asian American community celebrated the cabinet appointments of members to the Obama administration – Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, and Veterans Affairs Secretary General Eric Shinseki – there is a significant lack of representation among other federal, state and local elected leadership. There are currently six Asian American members of the House of Representatives from continental U.S. states and two senators from Hawaii, and only one governor, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Still, 36 percent of the general population thinks that Asian Americans have the right amount of power and influence in Washington and 47 percent, too little power.

–Around 65 percent of the general population believes that Asian American students are adequately represented on college campuses, with 45 percent of Chinese Americans agreeing and 36 percent arguing that they are underrepresented. In reality, out of some 3,200 college presidents in the United States, there are only 33 Asian Americans, including Dr. Patricia Hsieh of San Diego’s Miramar College, in this position.

–Similarly, while Asian Americans hold only about 1.5 percent of corporate board seats among Fortune 500 Companies, C-100’s report found that 50 percent of the general population believes Asian Americans are adequately represented on corporate boards, while only 23 percent of Chinese Americans agree. Forty-six percent of the general population also believes Asian Americans are promoted at the same pace as Caucasians.

The report was released April 20.

This report was prepared by and contributed to ASIA by C-100, a national non-partisan organization composed of Americans of Chinese descent who hold leadership positions in mainstream society. Among them: architect I.M. Pei, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, AIDS researcher David Ho and YouTube co-founder Steve Chen. It was republished in ASIA: The Journal of Culture & Commerce, an SDNN media partner.

Carmelo’s fiancee calls Mavs fans racist

Perhaps the best thing about the Dallas-Denver playoff series is that it can’t possibly go beyond seven games.

In addition to the acrimony between Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Kenyon Martin’s mother, the fiancee of Carmelo Anthony has now jumped into the fray, releasing a statement accusing Dallas fans of being racist. (Photo by Dan Steinberg/AP)

LaLa Vazquez, a regular on MTV, was escorted out during Game 4 at Dallas and has issued this statement ripping Mavericks fans:

“Obviously, the playoffs bring out the best and the worst in fans, but what happened on Monday night with the racial slurs/threats, verbal attacks on my son and physical attacks to myself by irate fans was unacceptable. The fans were totally out of control.”

Some Mavericks fans have told the Dallas Morning News that Vazquez was the one at fault.

Nuggets VP Rex Chapman, however, was at the game and told the Denver Post that, “Short of a game I saw in Belgrade a couple of years ago where they were throwing chairs and setting off flares, it was about as dangerous a venue as I’ve been in.”

Added Chapman: “It’s not fair to our players who have to sit there and worry about their families, friends, girlfriends and wives being, for lack of a better term, assaulted, verbally. It was really bad in there.”

On the bright side, emotions may not run as high when Game 5 is played in Denver tonight, because Cuban isn’t expected to be in attendance. He’s scheduled to accept an advertising award in Las Vegas.

Catching up on the series’ other bit of drama, that woman arrested at Dirk Nowitzki’s mansion last week has been transferred to another jail.