Sonia Sotomayor is now officially Justice Sotomayor. She took the oath administered by Chief Justice John Robert a few minutes ago.
On Thursday afternoon when the Senate voted to confirm her, the newest Senator, Al Franken the former comedian from Minnesota, was presiding and announced the vote. Is this a great country or what?
Anita Hill has a very interesting Op-Ed in today’s Boston Globe discussing the role of what she calls “educational democracy” played in Justice Sotomayor’s elevation to the Supreme Court.
A LATINA from a Bronx housing project is probably not what Woodrow Wilson envisioned when he called for “educational democracy’’ as president of Princeton University in 1910. Yet decades later, when Sonia Sotomayor ascended to the top of her class, his idea of an open and accessible university system was on its way to coming to fruition. In Wilson’s day, Princeton admitted no women and Wilson himself is said to have looked with disfavor on the admission of men of color. Nevertheless, educational reform was a springboard for his larger aims of social and political reform and his fight against “the rule of materialism in our national life.’’
Indeed, Wilson would have needed a high-definition crystal ball to foresee Sotomayor’s “incredible journey’’ to become an African-American president’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Yet, as a critical chapter in our country’s pursuit of educational equality, her story of hard work and high achievement is an extension of Wilson’s idea. She represents the positive change that can occur when social institutions – law and education in particular – shed their roles as tools for exclusion and open their doors to those previously barred. It took nearly 220 years for the first Latina justice to be appointed to the Supreme Court, but, in a country constitutionally committed to equal opportunity, it was inevitable.
It was under President Wilson that women gained the right to vote – a reward for suspending demonstrations for suffrage during World War I. And I’ve always thought that Edith Wilson had influence here also even though I don’t believe that any historical facts have ever surfaced to proved this.
Hill goes on
Sotomayor is poised to prove that the social experiment of the 1970s built on the idea of educational democracy has, thus far, worked. For its full realization, President Obama must correct the documented shortcomings of public schools that weigh most heavily on poor and minority community schools. We can’t be satisfied with one Sonia Sotomayor when we have the potential for so many more. For now, with her confirmation as the first Latina and third woman on the Supreme Court, Obama has reminded us of what egalitarian ideals and the will to pursue them can accomplish.
I think Hill is right. Educational democracy leads to a critical mass of women, African Americans, or other ethnic minorities ready to take on jobs and challenges that have not been open to them in the past. This leads to a cascade of changes in our society such as the election of the first African American President.
I think it is the loss of this exclusivity that has the white Republican men on the Senate Judiciary Committee so frightened. Perhaps they have seen all along where affirmative action or educational democracy was going to lead and why they have been so opposed to change. But that is probably giving them too much credit and they are just frightened of change that puts them in a position where they are no longer superior. One where they have to share power and priviledge.
Congratuations, Justice Sotomayor! And may the President’s next appointment be someone as wise as you. Perhaps a wise Asian American man or woman or a wise African American woman. Mary Frances Berry, anyone?