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Sotomayor and the Belizean Grove

June 18, 2009

With each new revelation about Judge Sonia Sotomayor, we are getting a fuller picture of President Obama’s choice to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court. We are also getting a fuller discussion of some of the socio-cultural issues that the Court is expected to face during the tenure of the nominee. A recent criticism of Judge Sotomayor, that she belongs to an elite group of powerful and influential women who meet each year in Belize, has once again raised the issue of discrimination. The group, called the Belizean Grove to echo an all-men’s group that meets in Northern California and calls itself Bohemian Grove, is women-only. Michael Kinsley in the Washington Post nicely encapsulates the difficulty we have discussing discrimination and affirmative action and how to square those concepts with a legal system and culture that adheres to the principle of equal protection of the laws.

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.

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