Michael Kinsley Slags Sotomayor's Evasions, Defends Double Standards

In his Washington Post column today, Michael Kinsley skewers Sonia Sotomayor for her response to the question of whether her membership in the all-female Belizean Grove violates the Judicial Code of Conduct:

If Obama had nominated a man who was a member of the Bohemian Grove, that would be a big issue and probably a fatal one. So how is it different if Sotomayor is a member of a club set up specifically to be the female equivalent? Rather than try to answer this question honestly, Sotomayor chose to make the preposterous argument that the Belizean Grove isn't a women's club. It's just that no men have ever applied for membership, you see. White clubs used to explain the absence of black members the same way. It's a laughable argument—a brazen whopper—and an insult to the citizenry and the Senate that must confirm her.

Kinsley surely is right that Sotomayor's position is evasive and dishonest. He's also right that there's double standard. Two years before he was nominated to the Supreme Court, Robert Bork, at the time a federal appeals court judge, took the precaution of quitting the all-male Century Association. By his account, he did so when he "became aware that there was a dispute as to whether a club with an all-male membership was engaged in invidious discrimination." It's not hard to imagine what Bork's opponents would have made of his continued affiliation with the group. A few years ago, Democrats criticized Samuel Alito for once belonging to an alumni organization that had resisted the admission of women to Princeton. (After it emerged that Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), one of Alito's chief antagonists, still belonged to the all-male Owl Club, which he had joined at Harvard, he immediately cut his ties to the group.) And as  Jeffrey Lord notes in The American Spectator, in 2002 Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) opposed 2nd Circuit nominee D. Brooks Smith based on his former membership in a Pennsylvania fishing club that excluded women. Leahy, now chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is not likely to make an issue of Sotomayor's continuing membership in the Belizean Grove.

But Kinsley goes on to argue that this is as it should be:

The true answer is that we tolerate discrimination in favor of traditionally oppressed groups more than we tolerate discrimination against them. It's not symmetrical. And, if you believe in affirmative action—as Sotomayor proudly does, as I do—it can't be. An all-women's club is okay even though an all-men's club is not. A corporation's minority recruitment program or a university's minority scholarships are considered admirable, while similar programs reserved for white people would be regarded as horrific.

Kinsley forthrightly admits that there is no difference between affirmative action and reverse discrimination (a distinction the Supreme Court pretends to perceive) but still supports it. I can't go along with him there, at least as far as state action is concerned. But what about guidelines for the private behavior of public officials such as judges? Should they be scrapped, or is there a way to distinguish between forms of discrimination that are no big deal (to my mind, all-male and all-female clubs fall into that category) and forms of discrimination that tend to create a perception of bias (say, all-white or all-Christian country clubs)? I'm not talking about whether private associations should be free to set their own admission criteria (they should). I'm talking about whether it makes sense to tell judges they may not join groups that practice certain kinds of discrimination.

[Thanks to Dan Friedman for the Bork link.]

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  • ||

    But what about guidelines for the private behavior of public officials such as judges? Should they be scrapped,

    Yes. Remember "freedom of association".

    or is there a way to distinguish between forms of discrimination that are no big deal (to my mind, all-male and all-female clubs fall into that category) and forms of discrimination that tend to create a perception of bias (say, all-white or all-Christian country clubs)?

    No. This is an eye-of-the-beholder thing, and not resolvable.

  • Douglas Gray||

    The issue here is not discrimination and double standards, but rather her basic sense of honesty; If she had come out and said that yes, it is club only for women, but it is more of a social thing, kind of like a college frat, I would have said, fine, but she gave a dishonest answer, and that should disqualify her. You don't hire people who lie on their job applications.

  • ||

    all-Christian country clubs

    Seriously?

    Anyway, predictable partisan hypocrisy and double standards notwithstanding, I, personally, do not care if Sotomayor belongs to an all-girls' club. I care more that anyone who supports her would use a similar circumstance, in an attempt to score cheap political points, to bash a white man who belonged to an all-boys' club.

  • ||

    You don't hire people who lie on their job applications.

    Quick, what's the secret handshake?

  • ||

    Goose, meet Gander.

    I don't really give a shit if someone is in an all male or all female club.

    Still, I'd like to see this be made a confirmation issue. Not because I think Sonia did anything wrong but I want to hear groveling apologies from feminists or at least get to revel in their tortured disingenuous justifications about why it's different for the girls, but we demand equality.

  • ||

    it's different for the girls, but we demand equality

    it's different because it's about 10 to 1 for all boy's versus all girl's, 100 to 1 for male vs. female opps, and 1,000 to 1 for the boy's vs girl's salaries historically.

    Not saying any single wrong makes up for multiple wrongs, just sayin.

    Don't care about memberships either if not demonstratively disqualifying but grill her on that smarmy answer -I am exceptionally tired of stupid equivocations being defended as anything but stupid.

  • Michael Ejercito||


    it's different because it's about 10 to 1 for all boy's versus all girl's, 100 to 1 for male vs. female opps, and 1,000 to 1 for the boy's vs girl's salaries historically.


    So what stops women from forming their own clubs?

  • Jennifer||

    I'm talking about whether it makes sense to tell judges they may not join groups that practice certain kinds of discrimination.

    I would say yes, because if you're going to have such a large amount of government-granted legal authority over people, even apparently harmless forms of discrimination could have the potential to influence decisions made on the bench.

    I'm not saying that every member of a male-only club is a misogynist or every female-only club member is a misandrist; in fact, I highly doubt that's the case. But with great power comes great responsibility and yadda yadda; if you want the power to make literal life-or-death decisions affecting people's lives, you must be above reproach.

  • ||

    Kinsley is a racist pig.

    -jcr

  • the innominate one||

    I'm talking about whether it makes sense to tell judges they may not join groups that practice certain kinds of discrimination.

    They can join those groups, but then they can't be judges.

  • Mike||

    One problem with Kinsley's argument is: who gets to define what a "traditionally oppressed group" is? At what point in American history could Irish or Polish people no longer claim to be a "traditionally oppressed group"? Can Kinsley tell me the exact year? The procedure for determining it?

    We are now to the point where almost 60% of new college graduates are women. Are women still a "traditionally oppressed group"? Are men?

  • late||

    So what stops women from forming their own clubs?

    Jews.

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    I think Mike makes a really good point. Right now in this society, upper class and upper middle class women have it pretty good. Is a group of Ivy League educated professional women really "oppressed"? People are slowly starting to get wise to the ridiculousness of the liberal position on race and affirmative action. The reaction to the magic Latina speech and now this is forcing liberals to admit that affirmative action is nothing but a power grab for favored groups. We either ought to say it is wrong for anyone to be in an exclusive club based on race or gender or admit that people have a free right of association and shut up about it. But this, we have some rules for white males and other rules for anyone else is bullshit.

  • ||

    You don't hire people who lie on their job applications.

    Oh sure we do - every time there's an election. ;-)

  • ||

    Eat the rich. Lynch the bosses. Decapitate the oppressors.
    At some point, the relationship between saying your "oppressed" and being in the Senate, or on the Supreme Court, will be examined. "Ms. Sotomayor, Whose tallywacker did you canoodle to enable your rise to your position of prominance, as we know there is no merit in this land of oppresion?"

  • David||

    Many men's groups have been forced to permit the entry of females based on the argument that if you have a number of powerful men (political, commerce, ...) meeting as a group while excluding females, this is a form of discrimination that harms females. In the case of Sotomayor, she is a member of a females' group that excludes men and is comprised of powerful females; as a result, this is a form of discrimination that harms men. Not that any of this matters since she will be confirmed and go on to rule based on gender and race to the harm of many in this country.

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