Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Wise Latina: Not So Good With Her Own Money

Apparently, Judge Sotomayor's wisdom does not yet include a basic understanding of the value of compound interest. Sotomayor's recent financial disclosure statement for 2008 tells us she would be one of the least wealthy people on the Supreme Court.

Part of the problem is that she does not seem to be too good at managing her $180,000 per year salary. The disclosure report indicated she only had between $15,000 and as much as $65,000 in her savings and checking account, and - most surprising - that she had no other investments.

Instead of socking away money in intelligent investments, she has got four separate credit cards - each with a balance of less than $15,000. Who knows how much money she owes to the Chinese...

Judge Sotomayor's faith in her superior judgment, however, is not based on any quantitative measurement of her skill as an investor. In my view, her faith in the superiority of a "wise Latina" comes from her investement in the ideology of the Latina "empowerment" movement. This movement teaches that Latinas have special gifts because of their roots in both Native American and traditional Catholic culture. For example, see Ana Nogales' book Latina Power! Using 7 Strengths You Already Have to Create the Success You Deserve.

In this philosophy, Latinas enjoy a special power because of their willingness to combine Native American practices (like herbs, magic and faith healing) with traditional Catholic virtues like loyalty to the priest and the traditional family.

Although this movement was meant to counter negative messages about Latin American culture, it can - at times - border on a promotion of the superiority of Latinas compared to other people. Sotomayor's understanding of the superiority of the "wise Latina" is stated fairly clearly in the words that preceed her now famous and justly distrubing comments:

"Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

Frankly, I do not think Sotomayor is joking when she suggests the superiority of the "wise Latina." She means it. Assuming her own Latina superiority, she cannot be criticized for being a bully, or for failing in her marriage, or for not getting the main point of an argument, or for wasting other people's time with trivial details. She cannot even be criticized for being a poor steward of her own financial resources. Whatever she does is perfectly all right - in her own mind - because she is born with the "inherent physiological or cultural differences" that make her superior.

Unfortunately for her, the negative results of her self-righteous philosophy are apparent to the general public in her willingness to make fun of those who think judges should not create policy, in her blindness to the pain and suffering of victims of reverse racism in New Haven, CT, and - predictably enough - in the lack of fruitfulness of her personal finances.

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