Sonia Sotomayor took the oath of office on Saturday. She
became the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the U. S.
Supreme Court. But will her presence make a difference?
Soyomayor grew up in Bronx housing project and was raised
by her mother after the death of her father. She had the good fortune,
and she is not afraid to admit to a helping hand through affirmative
action, to attend two Ivy League universities and later served on the
board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. Her rise
through the ranks as a federal judge has now taken her to the highest
Republicans criticized her for her votes on Second
Amendment and property rights, and on a racial discrimination case
involving white firefighters in New Haven, Conn.
On Thursday the Senate voted 68 to 31 to confirm her
nomination. The Democrats voted solidly to support her while only 9
Republicans joined them. Thirty-one Republicans voted against her.
They may feel the wrath of the Hispanic voters in 2010.
There appears to be a fear among the Republicans that
Sotomayor will vote her beliefs as a Latina, minority woman rather
than as an impartial, Constitutional judge. Do the Catholic and
conservative justices on the Supreme Court vote as strict
Constitutional purists when it comes to abortion, or do they vote
their personal, religious beliefs?
In the first 200 plus years of this country there was
never a question brought up about affirmative action. After all, it
worked in the favor of the white race for all of those 200 years in
politics, unions, state government, schools, city government, and in
hiring practices all across America.
African Americans and other minorities couldn't even join
most unions because a part of the criteria included having a
friend/sponsor or relative already in the union. This pretty much
closed the door to African American membership in most unions.
Even the men and women that defended America in time of
war were segregated. Hispanics and Native Americans were counted as
Caucasians on the rolls of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and
Coast Guard prior to and during World War II for some odd reason.
Chinese Americans could serve in the regular military units, but the
Japanese and African Americans had to serve in all-Japanese and
It was only after so-called "liberal" justices made it to
the U. S. Supreme Court that things began to change for the minority
races. Of course it took the leadership and persuasion of a Harry S.
Truman to integrate the armed forces and a Texan named Lyndon Baines
Johnson to push for the civil rights and voting rights of minorities,
especially African Americans. But behind those two leaders and
innovators were African American, Hispanic, Native American and Asian
American leaders and citizens fighting for justice every step of the
Perhaps it will be a cold day in hell before a genuine
Native American ever reaches the rarified air of the U. S. Supreme
Court. Heck, Indians have to fight tooth and nail to get appointed to
serve on a city, county or state court, least of all to a federal court.
In South Dakota, where Native Americans make up more than
10 percent of the total state population, there has never been a
Native American appointed to serve on a federal court. And it's not
because there are no qualified Indian attorneys. There are plenty of
damned good Indian lawyers in this state, but the glass ceiling that
women have had to contend with for a couple of hundred years seems to
be the same roof keeping Indians down.
Sonia Sotomayor has experienced the frustrations of
climbing the ladder of success in lieu of the glass ceiling by virtue
of being a woman, as have the other two women who have served on this
highest of courts, but she has also experienced the discrimination
that none of the other women experienced, and that is the
discrimination of being a racial minority.
No doubt there will be cases coming down the pike that
will severely test her personal beliefs and experiences because until
you have faced racial discrimination, you cannot know the devastating
impact it has on your psyche.
There is an old saying that goes, "Freedom of the press
belongs to those who own the press" and for too many years, the laws
that were the foundation of justice in America were written and
enforced by the majority, white politicians and justices of America.
To a minority that is not just speculation, but it is a fact. In South
Dakota, for example, there are two forms of justice; one for whites
and one for Indians. Every Indian knows this to be a fact.
Appointing Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court was a
longtime a-coming. I will not hold my breath waiting for the first
Native American to join her club.
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota, is the publisher of Native Sun News. He was the
founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association, the
1985 recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award, and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with
the Class of 1991. Giago was inducted into the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of
Fame in 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More Tim Giago:Tim Giago: Standing ground at Mount Rushmore
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Giago: Rapid City is changing for the better
(7/20) Tim Giago: Frontier mentality still alive in 2009
(7/13) Tim Giago: The execution of Chief
(7/6) Tim Giago: McDonald's
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(6/29) Tim Giago:
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(6/22) Tim Giago: South Dakota restricts tribal growth
(6/15) Tim Giago: No more status quo for
(6/8) Tim Giago: Being
Indian and being independent
Giago: Let Oglala Sioux president do her job
(5/27) Tim Giago: Memorial Day speech at Black Hills
(5/25) Tim Giago: Small victories in
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(5/18) Tim Giago:
A day of tribal victory at Little Bighorn
(5/11) Tim Giago: Negative Native images in the news
(5/4) Tim Giago: Resolving ownership of
the Black Hills
(4/27) Tim Giago: Good
things and bad things come in April
(4/20) Tim Giago: An open letter to South Dakota governor
(4/13) Tim Giago: Nostalgia and South
(4/6) Tim Giago: An
older brother who paved the way
(3/30) Tim Giago: Sticks and stones and Charles Trimble
(3/17) Tim Giago: Pine Ridge team
triumphs at tournament
(3/16) Tim Giago:
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Giago: No winners at Wounded Knee 1973
(3/5) Tim Giago: The real victims of Wounded Knee 1973
(3/2) Tim Giago: No outrage over abuse
(2/23) Tim Giago: A
perspective on the fairness doctrine
(2/16) Tim Giago: Throwing Tom Daschle under the bus
(2/9) Tim Giago: Native people out of
sight, out of mind
(2/2) Tim Giago:
Native veteran loses fight against VA
(1/26) Tim Giago: The Wellbriety Journey for Forgiveness
(1/19) Tim Giago: The stolen generations
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(1/12) Tim Giago: Indian
Country looks to Tom Daschle for help