Bench Memos

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Judge Sotomayor vs. the ‘Color-Blind Way’


The Washington Post and New York Times today both quote this excerpt from a 1998 speech by Judge Sotomayor, which is also echoed in her “wise Latina” speech a few years later:

America has a deeply confused image of itself that is a perpetual source of tension. We are a nation that takes pride in our ethnic diversity, recognizing its importance in shaping our society and in adding richness to its existence. Yet we simultaneously insist that we can and must function and live in a race- and color-blind way that ignores those very differences that in other contexts we laud.

There is nothing “deeply confused” about believing that it, in a multiethnic and multiracial society, it is untenable to have a legal regime that sorts and treats people differently based on skin color and national origin. 

To elaborate: We can be proud that our nation eagerly accepts immigrants from all over the world, while believing that those immigrants must become Americans. It’s fine to enjoy different foods, but there must be assimilation on some things, like language, embracing the American economic and political system, patriotism — and the principle of “Equal Justice Under Law,” which is inscribed on the building where Judge Sotomayor hopes to work. E pluribus unum.


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