Sotomayor and International Relations

Okay, there’s not much there. But with reference to Andrew Bast’s WPR column from two weeks ago, which discussed the ways in which the Supreme Court is increasingly an IR arena, there are two thought-provoking elements introduced by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s Nuyorican heritage. (And yes, as a New Yorker, you know I’m going to put NY before Borinquen.)

First, the fact that she’s considered the child of an immigrant, even though Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. So this idea that using the Spanish pronounciation of her name is somehow un-American is the equivalent of saying that using the Southern or Bayou pronunciation of a name is un-American. Still, the Puerto Rican experience of coming to New York, especially for people of Sotomayor’s parents’ generation, was the functional equivalent of the immigrant experience, which suggests that Sotomayor might exercise more “empathy” regarding the use of international case law to influence her decisions. [Late update: Then again, Justice Antonin Scalia’s father immigrated from Sicily, and as Bast pointed out, Scalia is very hostile to the use of international case law in Supreme Court rulings.]

Second, and perhaps more significantly, the status of Puerto Rico as a protectorate. Funny how life is often a long return: Sotomayor’s parents left an island that is denied its constitutional right to congressional representation, only for her to wind up in a city — Washington, D.C. — that is denied its constitutional right to congressional representation. Consider the cases that remain to be decided before the Court in terms of denial of detainees’ rights and the significance of that seems obvious.

Completely unrelated to IR, I know that partisan politics comes before all else these days, but it’s incredible how little gravitas or wonder remains with regard to Supreme Court nominations. Seriously, anyone who’s ever read even a bit of constitutional law knows what awe-inspiring conceptual ground it covers. And only nine individuals at any given time exercise the office. Out of 300 million. It’s a shame that the nomination process becomes a mudslinging contest, instead of the Olympian intellectual exercise it ought to be.

And finally, lost in the partisan battle lines being drawn is the fascinating aspect of a former constitutional law professor nominating a Supreme Court judge. I obviously don’t know the guy, but the sense I get of President Barack Obama as an intellectual leads me to believe that this must have been the reward for dealing with the hardships of the campaign, and the nightmares of what awaited him once in office. This is the judicial equivalent of the rotisserie league dude who actually gets a shot at being a major league GM.

Note: Updated for clarity.

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