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Judging Sonia Sotomayor: Nomination ignites pride and stereotypes 

The confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor is set to begin on July 13, putting her on a path to possibly be named the first Latina judge on the highest court in the land. But since her name was first announced, she's been the subject of discussion, debate and scrutiny; discussion, debate and scrutiny that has, for the most part, been dominated by old white men — despite the fact that race and sex are central to the talk about her historic nomination.

Consequently (and ironically), those who look like Sotomayor -- women and Latinos -- have been absent from the conversation, and that's lead to one-sided commentary about the judge.

To cable networks like Fox News, which has lined up numerous pundits to question the judge and her qualifications, Sotomayor is a liberal "activist judge" who can't control her emotions.

Talk of Sotomayor's knowledge of the law was taken to another level last week when The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ruling Sotomayor had supported as an appeals court judge; the ruling stated that New Haven, Conn., was wrong for disregarding the results of a written exam that no black firefighters scored high enough on to receive a promotion.

According to the Associated Press, the reversal of the ruling gives Sotomayor's conservative critics more ammunition to possibly block her confirmation.

"This case will only raise more questions in the minds of the American people concerning Judge Sotomayor's commitment to treat each individual fairly and not as a member of a group," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to the Associated Press.

Sessions' voice is added to Newt Gingrich's, who already made allegations of Sotomayor being a racist. According to The Washington Post, Gingrich sent a message out via Twitter that "White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw." Gingrich reportedly made the comment after reading the now-infamous passage from a 2001 speech where she said, "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."

But according to Angeles Ortega-Moore, executive director of Charlotte's Latin American Coalition, this is much ado about nothing.

"She has incredible credentials to begin with. The people opposing her nomination are making too much of her comments about a wise Latina female making a better decision. They are making it much more that it needs to be," said Ortega-Moore. "What she was saying is that she has a different perspective and she can make a much broader decision."

"The bad thing the mainstream media has done is always giving voice and giving space to the white men who are hateful to anything that is different from them," said Alejandro Manrique, news director and executive editor of Qué Pasa Media. "Anything that is different from being a white conservative person is subject of hate and harsh criticism. Not a rational criticism; they don't show an argument behind their attacks."

Mary C. Curtis -- former Charlotte Observer columnist and current, Fox News Rising and Creative Loafing contibutor -- said references to Sotomayor's out-of-control emotions only expose long-standing gender stereotypes.

"That's nothing new," Curtis said. "And you've also heard that women aren't as able to be intellectual and clear-eyed about making decisions. We have seen racial and gender stereotypes come into play in the discussion about her.

"It's kind of interesting to me," added Curtis. "I [recently watched] West Side Story, and it's almost like they're talking about [Sotomayor] as if she's Anita, as opposed to a judge who has a record that they can look up of her cases. It would be funny -- except that it's not."

Sotomayor's life, according to the White House Press Office, serves as a "a role model of aspiration, discipline, commitment, intellectual prowess and integrity" for her ascent to the federal bench from an upbringing in a South Bronx housing project."

Curtis concurred with the White House depiction, contending: "Something that troubles me is when people [ask] 'Would her background have an effect?' But they never see white men as having a cultural or racial or gender background that would affect their views. And how a background of privilege affects someone as well. It's sort of like, 'Well, they are neutral.' It's as if it only goes one way."

Maggie Giraud, president of the Puerto Rican Cultural Society of Charlotte, said Sotomayor's nomination shows that the United States is ready to make the courts reflect the population.

"For so many years, although we're supposed to be judged by our peers, it wasn't that way for minorities," Giraud said. "We didn't have the representation that was similar to that of the population."

In 2002, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund published a study about the need for more Hispanic judges. And for Giraud, Sotomayor's nomination continues to put cracks in the glass ceiling women and minorities face in America.

"I have a daughter who is waiting to get into law school, and I've had discussions with her that when she gets into law school and practices law, she can look beyond just being a trial lawyer. She can aspire to be a judge; she can aspire to make it to the Supreme Court," she said. "In the past, I don't think there was a vision beyond that, they could go to law school and practice law and do well at it, but there didn't seem to be any more beyond that. It tells them that you can be a strong Latina woman, that you don't have to stop being a Latina or stop thinking as a woman to break the glass ceiling."

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