Jim Antle replies:

Okay, here is how a reversal of the statement would read: “I would hope that a wise white man with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Latina who hasn’t lived that life.” The title of the speech? A “White Judge’s Voice.” (Or maybe a “White Judge’s Burden.”)

I am willing to bet that most people would regard the above statement as racist. If criticizing Sotomayor means we don’t get white judges who talk like this, even really conservative ones appointed by Republican presidents, I’m not really sorry about that. Sotomayor’s case is obviously more nuanced — there actually is a Latin culture and identity of which she is a part and entitled to celebrate, while a white person talking about the richnes of his whiteness (as opposed to his Scottish, English, Italian or even Southern heritage) is living in a white nationalist fantasy world — but as the country grows more diverse, the concepts of particularly white, black, and brown colors of justices become even less desirable. Sotomayor does not have to be an actual separatist or anti-white racist to contribute to a style of judging where race looms larger in our country’s legal system.

Jim might very well win that bet, because the word racist has been so overused and abused over the years that it is fast approaching the status of the word fascist to mean “someone or something I don’t like.” It has become one of a few catch-all labels used to express contempt, and it has become less of a descriptive term and more of a pejorative one. What most people would think about that sentence is a product of the social conditioning they have received for decades, which is the conditioning that conservatives normally find so irritating and which many are now reinforcing to back up an otherwise rather weak argument against a single Supreme Court nominee. Jim might continue the thought by saying, “Most people would regard the above statement as racist…and they would be wrong.”

If Sotomayor’s case is more nuanced, why don’t we use a more nuanced comparison when reversing the statement? If being a part of a certain white ethnic group is something that one is “entitled to celebrate” in a similar way, would we consider it racist for an Armenian or a Russian or German-American to express a similar pride in his heritage and express the hope that it would inform his judgments in such a way that he would be a better judge than someone not from that background? Perhaps the son or grandson of Russian emigres has a more keen appreciation for the rule of law because his family escaped from the grip of a totalitarian state; he does not take for granted what most of us and our ancestors have always known. Perhaps the grandson or great-grandson of German immigrants would be more attentive to the predicament of ethnic communities that are tied in the public’s mind with a foreign enemy in wartime. For that matter, perhaps the descendant of old-line English settlers deeply values the American constitutional heritage because he sees it as being inextricably interwoven with the heritage of his own ancestors, and so his support for the fundamental law has added significance for him. One could come up with other examples, but I think these already make clear that the statement in question–on which so much of the resistance to Sotomayor seems to be based at this point–may be many things, but racist is not one of them.