Sotomayor quoted what I think is the Chief Justice's most famous line, the aphorism that ends his opinion in the 2007 school-desegretation case Parents Involved: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."
Sotomayor rejects this "sentiment" as "out of touch with reality," and delivers 3 didactic paragraphs each of which begins with what might very well feel like a condescending use of the phrase "race matters":
Race matters. Race matters in part because of the long history of racial minorities’ being denied access to the political process...I'm sure many readers will love the lilt and pithiness those 9 "race matters" bonks on the over-abstract head of the Chief Justice, but I suspect that inside that head, it felt like an attack that had to be met with an even pithier response. First, Roberts can't let stand this assertion that he doesn't understand reality, and second, the very next thing she does is repurpose his best aphorism. She says:
Race also matters because of persistent racial inequality in society...
And race matters for reasons that really are only skin deep, that cannot be discussed any other way, and that cannot be wished away. Race matters to a young man’s view of society when he spends his teenage years watching others tense up as he passes, no matter the neighborhood where he grew up. Race matters to a young woman’s sense of self when she states her hometown, and then is pressed, “No, where are you really from?”, regardless of how many generations her family has been in the country. Race matters to a young person addressed by a stranger in a foreign language, which he does not understand because only English was spoken at home. Race matters because of the slights, the snickers, the silent judgments that reinforce that most crippling of thoughts: “I do not belong here.”
In my colleagues’ view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination. This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable.
The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.Eyes open, not blind, and mouths open and not sparing you from the ongoing conversation about race. As an added fillip, she equates color-blindness with "sit[ting] back" and trying to "wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society": "It is this view that works harm, by perpetuating the facile notion that what makes race matter is acknowledging the simple truth that race does matter."
That's 2 more bonks with the "race matters" hammer, for a total of 11.
He had to respond, and his response, though couched in politeness, shows he felt wounded:
[I]t is not “out of touch with reality” to conclude that racial preferences may themselves have the debilitating effect of reinforcing precisely that ["I do not belong here"] doubt, and — if so — that the preferences do more harm than good. To disagree with the dissent’s views on the costs and benefits of racial preferences is not to “wish away, rather than confront” racial inequality. People can disagree in good faith on this issue, but it similarly does more harm than good to question the openness and candor of those on either side of the debate.Interestingly, each Justice accused the other of shutting down the conversation about race. Sotomayor expressed the desire for everyone "to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race," and Roberts wanted respect for the "the openness and candor" of the argument for race-neutral government policies (which, it really must be conceded, can be favored even by those who get that race matters in real life).