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Friday, May 29, 2009

As a white dude from the suburbs my objective application of universal human reason is, of course, beyond reproach, and it admits to some abstract discomfort with affirmative action. It is, on the one hand, significantly under-responsive to class privilege, which seems in my experience to be more wide-ranging and pernicious than either race or gender privilege. Second, affirmative action is, I think, under-responsive to the passage of time, especially with regard to the timeline of its eventual elimination. Finally, I regret that policies that promote justice in the main across the population sometimes require arbitrary and unfair discrimination at the level of the individual, even, in boundary cases, rising themselves to the level of injustice.

Affirmative action, in other words, is not something you'd enact if you were designing a polity from scratch—but of course America was not designed from scratch. Less than fifty years from Jim Crow, we need it, at least for now, and probably for as long as any of us will be alive. But it is not uncomplicated or easy, and a subject about which reasonable people can certainly disagree.

All this is just prelude to a particular sort of outraged right-wing response to the Sonia Sotomayor appointment, the claim that she (in Michael Goldfarb's words) "has been the recipient of preferential treatment for most of her life" or that she has (in Fred Barnes's words) "benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously." There is, it must be said, no evidence that either of these prejudiced, kneejerk assumptions is remotely accurate; it is the mere fact that Sotomayor is Latina that not only suggests the preferential treatment she must have received but, in fact, puts it beyond all possible dispute. As these pundits now cast about aimlessly looking for proof of what they assumed went without saying, it's worth wondering what else a valedictorian of her high school class who went on to graduate from Princeton summa cum laude, winning the prestigious Pyne Prize in the process, before heading off to Yale where she served as editor of the Law Review, before pursuing a distinguished career in law including high appointments from both Democratic and Republican presidents could possibly achieve before her accomplishments were allowed to speak for themselves.