June 3, 2009

"Why Sonia Sotomayor Came Out Okay Despite the Height of the Building She Grew Up In."

Despite that headline, John McWhorter doesn't really answer the question. He raises a lot more questions. Uncomfortable questions.


EnigmatiCore said...

I'm not finding the discomfort here.

traditionalguy said...

People who have to get up and go to work in order to eat also do well at learning the basc human interractions necessary to living successfully People who just get a check and sit around all day find excitement by hunting prey. And why not self medicate with drugs to pass the boring days. Having a job is the answer. Sonia Sotomayor had a job: getting educated at the Catholic School, that her mother demanded from her kids. The black moms did not care about their kids, it is that simple.

Treacle said...

She came out already? A little late para nuestra zorrita.

ricpic said...

When I worked as a caseworker for the NYC Welfare Department back in the day my tongue would hang out at the magnificence, that's right, the magnificence of some of the apartments in the projects I would visit on my field days. I sure as heck couldn't afford any such amenities. Large eat in kitchens, nice ample room dimensions, wood floors; the two and three bedroom apartments often had three exposures, as close to detached house living as you can get in an apartment. The fact that their tenants in most cases had turned them into shit was a reflection on the tenants, not the housing stock the city had practically gifted them with.

Aaron said...

Then i suppose he is ready to say her infamous comments don't even raise a reasonable question to her impartiality, because otherwise, there are alot of cases she would have to disqualify herself from. Starting with Ricci.

Ricci itself is an embarrassment. The lower court judge said that there was no racial classification in that case, despite the undisputed fact that if more black people had passed the test, they would have certified the results and granted these ment the promotion. So because of their color they were not promoted.

the lower court said there was no discrimination, because the city didn't certify the results for anyone, so everyone is treated the same. That is flat out wrong.

And not only was that ridiculous ruling affirmed, but the opinion was endorsed by the 2nd circuit panel, described was well reasoned.

The correct answer is that there was discrimination, but it might be justified under strict scrutiny. Of course it is not easy to win under the strict scrutiny standard, but that is the standard.

So, according to the precedent set down by Soto, a city can have a test for promotion and then if too many black people do well, the city can say, "n---ers are too stupid to do that well. there had to be something wrong with the test. throw it out." And by the logic of the lower court, there would be no attention paid to that decision at all, however clearly the inaction was motivated by racial animus.

Its ludicrous, and frankly as a person who has faced discrimination, i am furious at the so-called advocates of equality endorsing this approach. i have to think a percentage of them do so because of an ideological committment to support sotomayor, right or wrong.

So sotomayor was wrong, in a mannor that harmed a man belonging to the same demographics that she said was inferior to her. That raises a serious question about her impartiality.

Aaron said...

Btw, legal insurrection has a reprint of alot of what O'Connor said that Soto was responding to in her famous white male comment. Its serves as a prebuttal to Soto's silliness, demonstrating how it very perniciously promotes old stereotypes about women.


And let us notice something else. Soto said that she had no idea whether O'Connor said it. But in fact not only did O'Connor say it (in the sense that she quoted another and endorsed the sentiment), but it was said in a periodical that was almost certainly in the westlaw/lexis database on the day Sotomayor said she wasn't sure if O'Connor said it, so Soto either wasn't curious about actually finding out, or she stank as a researcher.

But, to be fair, if memory serves, Soto went to law school at about the time i was born, and most people in my generation don't know how to construct intelligent searches, even. i am better at this than most because i am unusual among lawyers as being equally left brained and right brained. most lawyers are actually right brained. (and that is unusual among people generally, because most people are either left or right brained.) understanding computers is a very left brained thing.

Fen said...

The fact that their tenants in most cases had turned them into shit was a reflection on the tenants, not the housing stock the city had practically gifted them with.

Oh, its even more "fun" with a Section 8 living next door to you. Rap music blarring, young men loitering about with nothing to do, police in and out once a week. Broken pane syndrome. Trash littered all over the commons. Homeowners escaping by renting thier own out and making it all worse. The whole neighborhood has gone to crap over one ghetto "family" who brought all their bad habits with them.

Good thing Edwards is toast. He would have brought this to every neighborhood with his plan.

TosaGuy said...

If you want to gain some insight on project living then read There are no Children Here

Fred4Pres said...

The architecture does contribute to it. Centralizing the core and having people come and go from it only works if it is maintained, safe and clean. Ever been in one of those projects? Anything but.

Tenaments are of a much smaller scale and there a collection of families that can enforce some order on their own in the building. You lose that when you have hundreds of families sharing a couple of stairwells and an elevator core.

But the social programs that started around the same time made things far worse.

Fred4Pres said...

The "coming out" comment caught my eye too.

Bissage said...

(1) It would be hackneyed for me to mention that story about how removing the bull elephants from the game preserve resulted in the younger elephants killing the rhinoceroses and fighting with each other.

So I won’t mention it.

(2) The vocabulary word of the day is “apophasis.”

BJK said...

So, according to the precedent set down by Soto...

Aaron, the Ricci decision authored by the 2nd Cir. was unpublished, meaning it didn't create actual precedent.

Think back to the YouTube clip about Judges "making policy." Now listen to the rest of the clip, where Judge Sotomayor talks about cases creating precedent, and how Appellate Judges focus more on the precedent than the facts of the individual case. That's the part of the clip that people should focus on, and explanatory of what took place in the Ricci case.

Judge Sotomayor did not want the reverse discrimination ruling to become precedent, given her own opinions as to where the case law should go, and disposed of a "bad facts" case without creating precedent. I don't know if that's another topic that's public knowledge within the halls of law schools nowadays, but it was fairly shocking for me to see it in practice.

Aaron said...


Not only is ricci not unpublished, it is published... by the second circuit website!


Everyone in the world is told that the lower court reasoning which is wrongheaded, is "well-reasoned."

and yes, the courts should always be concerned with the precedent they are setting--which is exactly what is wrong in this case. they have set a precedent for explicitly racist action triggering absolutely no scrutiny under the 14th A. Anyone who cares about combatting discrimination should hope and pray that the supreme court corrects the error somehow.

David said...

The high rise projects were a disaster and no doubt the architecture was a contributing factor. An enabling factor, if you will.

But the social mess that the tenants were in was the major cause. Daniel Patrick Moynihan saw it coming, wrote eloquently about it, made fighting the social issues part of his life's work and died with things worse than when he started.

We can debate the causes of this disaster endlessly, but it won't change the current situation. I believe the situation is so bad that only a revolution in attitude in the African American community can change it. Get away from blame, despair and excuses, even though there are many to blame, much reason to despair and valid excuses. Sucking it up is the only way out of this.

Is this fair? Well, probably not, but fairness is pretty much irrelevant.

As to high rises: many of the same problems that developed in the projects also developed in the small, low rise neighborhoods of South Carolina cities, towns and rural areas. And this was in a state where the African American community had strong churches and deep multi generational family ties. It's heart breaking, really.

Note to Trad Guy: the black moms care about their kids just like most moms do. Exceptions? Sure. But the problem is that the challenges overwhelm the skills and resources of the moms. One of these challenges is the despairing acceptance of the problems. That has to change.

William said...

I grew up in a housing project. There was always heat and hot water. This was a big improvement on my family's previous housing. Still, when the state chooses to gift the poor they seldom gift wrap the present. The projects were ugly. It was all cinder block and cement....For the white kids there was a terrible sense of shame in living there. Your family was a government certified failure if you lived in the projects. I'm not sure if the black kids had that same sense of shame about living there. It showed that their parents had figured out a way to play the system to their advantage....At any rate, it was a crappy place to live. Most of the families were broken and most of the kids had angers and resentments that they took out on each other. I think most of the kids figured out a way to climb the ladder, but it was despite rather than because of their experiences in the projects. The difficult feat for a child of the projects was not to climb the ladder but to discover that a ladder even existed.

muddimo said...

"The difficult feat for a child of the projects was not to climb the ladder but to discover that a ladder even existed."

Best comment so far. If kids cannot visualize a different life, that a way out is within reach or even exists, many will grow up to model what they do know.

Christo Rey schools, now 22 throughout the country, accept only inner city high school kids (and only the poorest of the poor)and put them in offices one day a week where they are expected to dress and act like professionals. And they do. And they see what life not only could be like for them but WILL be like if only they follow the advice given by the school and their mentors and use the resources offered. The vast majority go on to college and much better lives than their public school peers.

If you really care, find your nearest Christo Rey school and offer a donation and/or your time. You will personally make an immediate substantial impact on our future.

Aaron said...

The tragedy of the commons teaches us that when you make something a commons, it ends up being tragic.

Now, to be fair, some people when given free stuff still nonetheless take care of it, but when free stuff from the government ends up being a disaster, you have to think that neglect by the recipients is a factor.

former law student said...

Demographics and building height both play a part.

The most tranquil public housing in Chicago is the two-story rowhouses, separated from each other by lawns and playgrounds. The crime-ridden hellholes were all high density projects of 15 stories and higher. The designers of the high rises attempted to generate feelings of neighborliness by creating "galleries" on each floor; a common space for all units along each wall, screened from the precipice by chain-link fencing. The galleries became escape routes for gang bangers, as well as a gravity-enabled means of getting rid of troublemakers.

In the case of Sonia Sotomayor, she grew up first in the Bronxdale Houses, a public housing development of seven-story buildings, thus neither as cozy as row houses nor as isolating as high rises. In high school, the Sotomayors moved to the newly built Co-Op City, privately built affordable housing including high rise building from 24 to 33 stories. (Government encouraged such building by providing low cost land that they had seized by eminent domain, and providing tax abatements.)

So why was the much higher rise Co-op City not a festering, crime-ridden hellhole? Likely because the residents were financially secure enough to buy a share of the co-op which entitled them to live there. Public housing had to take everyone, including those living solely on public aid.

bearbee said...

Family, family, family,

With regard to White House site photo spread of Sotomayor I found those few family photos far more interesting than the 'knee' photo.Those photos struck me as fairly urban middle -class-ish for the era. and to the extent I was able, I saw reflected strong family values, pride and unity.

Although my own upbringing was chaotic, fragmented and hardly middle-class, it still had a strong family quality.

In those Sotomayor photos I sensed a similar strong influence of family, family, family.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

This reminds me of a dake comic book ad that Chris Ware drew in an issue of Acme Comics back in the 90's. The ads were patterned after old comic book ads for things like x-ray spex; his were for items like a sense of approaching death, self esteem, etc. The ad offering to build high rise public housing referred to the buildings as "Negro Storage Boxes". (Ware was a Chicagoan so I assume his concept was informed by Cabrini-Green).

bearbee said...

Hong Kong Storage Boxes

Concept doesn't die, it just get recycled somewhere else.

Hope roaches don't establish a beachhead.

BTW didn't the Soviets have similar although less 'attractive' storage boxes?

BJK said...

Not only is ricci not unpublished, it is published... by the second circuit website!

I should have been more clear. The case has been published, to the extent that copies of the decision are available for general consumption. To lawyers, however, a "published" decision means one which has been published in an official Reporter (volumes upon volumes of court decisions, in bound form), which can be cited as precedent.

It is my understanding that the Ricci decision penned by Judge Sotomayor is unpublished in the legal sense. Further, it is my own contention that the opinion was written with the intent that it not be published, in an attempt to prevent a bad facts case from becoming 'published' precedent.

In hindsight, we know that such an attempt was futile, as the Supreme Court has already heard the oral arguments on the case. It is the attempt to bury a fact-pattern that does not conform to the precedent that the judge wants (this isn't what a race discrimination is supposed to look like, because the Plaintiffs are white) which draws my ire.

Aaron said...


If its unpublished, the ordinary practice is to say so upfront. so it probably isn't "legally" unpublished either.

and even being so, let me say bluntly that unpublished opinions are cited alot anyway.

Of course you are stepping into what is increasingly a controversial practice in the courts and there are some cases challenging the idea of declaring an opinion to lack precedent.

As for whether the Ricci case will be upheld, I think it is a tough row to hoe. But i have no doubt at all that they will say it is discrimination. This is a passage from grutter v. bollinger dealing with affirmative action:

> We have held that all racial classifications imposed by government “must be analyzed by a reviewing court under strict scrutiny.” Ibid. This means that such classifications are constitutional only if they are narrowly tailored to further compelling governmental interests. “Absent searching judicial inquiry into the justification for such race-based measures,” we have no way to determine what “classifications are ‘benign’ or ‘remedial’ and what classifications are in fact motivated by illegitimate notions of racial inferiority or simple racial politics.” Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., 488 U.S. 469, 493 (1989) (plurality opinion). We apply strict scrutiny to all racial classifications to “ ‘smoke out’ illegitimate uses of race by assuring that [government] is pursuing a goal important enough to warrant use of a highly suspect tool.” Ibid.

There is good reason to suspect that racial politics was involved here, although i can't say for sure, and the court will not be interested in giving NH a pass without a very thorough looking over.

imho, i think you can't decide the case without a full trial on the facts. so i expect the case to be overturned, for it to go to trial and then maybe we will fight a little more after the end of it. but to me it is clear that the plaintiffs have put enough into play to establish that they have a right to their full day in court and not to have this dismissed on summary judgment.

former law student said...

it is my own contention that the opinion was written with the intent that it not be published, in an attempt to prevent a bad facts case from becoming 'published' precedent

Or maybe they didn't think it deserved any more effort. The 11th Circuit disposed of a gun rights case by affirming the district court without any opinion, at
894 F.2d 412 (11th Cir 1990). But the district court judge basically just adopted the recommendation of a magistrate judge: Gilbert Equipment Co., Inc. v. Higgins

This case is notable because the magistrate ruled that "the right to keep and bear arms
does not extend to and include the right to import arms."

DenisEugeneSullivan said...


I grew up in the Bronx a little bit before Judge Sotomayor. I’m still ambivalent about her nomination and forthcoming elevation to the US Supreme Court. Much has been reported about her experience as a “Latina” women, but what i would like to ask her about is what does she think happened, and why, to the Bronx in the late ’60s and ’70s. In case you and your readers are unaware, large parts of what were to be called “the South Bronx” were given a Dresden-lite treatment in which a viable housing stock was, bit by bit, put to the torch and subsequently depopulated. I can’t imagine that anyone who grew up in the Bronx in that time was unaffected by that disaster.

Ralph said...

The first time I saw much of NYC, after going to the World's Fair as a child, was in 1982. My great aunt's funeral was in Queens but she was buried in that big cemetery in Brooklyn. We drove past block after block of boarded up old tenements, while just over the river, most rents were sky high (so we thought). Everyone seemed to be deliberately driving the city into the ground.

bearbee said...

@DenisEugeneSullivan, Wiki has some interesting historical comments about the South Bronx area including Robert Moses’s urban renewal project and rent control as among contributing factors in the South Bronx decay.

Similarly starting after WW2 and into the 70's Chicago underwent urban renewal.