Sotomayor and Standpoint Theory

Here’s a quote from Sonia Sotomayor:

“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.”

The right-wing is of course up in arms, accusing her of racism. Me, I was busy thinking “WTF? She’s a standpoint theorist? Really? That’s fascinating!”

Further research into the context of her remarks shoots down the “she’s a racist” theory, but leaves intact the possibility that she’s a standpoint theorist, at least of the sort who holds that members of certain groups may have special insights into particular issues. (Though you don’t have to be a standpoint theorist to think that.)

Those words came as part of a discussion about the importance of judicial diversity in determining race and sex discrimination cases, but they have been widely reproduced out of context.

9 thoughts on “Sotomayor and Standpoint Theory

  1. This is so interesting. If Mark Johnson’s right,** and we need imagination to make good decisions from principles, then standpoint theory looks to have strong claims in the case of judicial decision making.

    I love the idea that Sottomayor has the sort of self-reflection that let her see this. Certainly, it’s pretty unclear that Roberts would be able to see the comparable truth about himself. But perhaps he does.

    **this is a reference to something in the post about the chief justice.

  2. Another quote from the same article: “I accept the proposition that…states ‘there is no objective stance but only a series of perspectives–no neutrality, no escape from choice in judging.’ I further accept that our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions. The aspiration to impartiality is just that–it’s an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others.”

  3. Sorry. The original passage that Jender quotes is from an article by Sotomayor in the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal, and the passage I quoted is by her also and from the same article as the original. I thought it further added to her ‘standpoint theorist’ credentials.

  4. It would be really nice to have a clear discussion of the difference between just saying people have standpoints and being a standpoint theorist. I would have thought at Sotomajor’s view that a Latina’s experiences can make her better at reaching decisions is at least close to a standpoint theorist’s claims.

  5. Certainly the denial of objectivity in Ross’s quote fits quite nicely with many versions of standpoint theory. Though I wonder if it’s being denied for a different reason: because judges are in some sense *creating* the legal facts. I am, however, speculating without having had time to read the article. (I’m so grateful to those who have done so!) At any rate, it’s quite a fascinating quote. And yes, JJ, the claim that her standpoint is *better* for knowledge really does sound like standpoint theory.

  6. I had exactly the same reaction, Jender; and whenever in my Intro courses I touch on standpoint theory in the feminist philosophy section of the course, the hypothetical I use to try to convey to students why someone might find standpoint theory appealing is very similar to the sort of thing that Sotomayor was discussing. Even if she wasn’t intending to convey a form of standpoint theory, it gives me a real-world ‘anchor’ to give to students in future classes.

  7. […] again Feminist Philosophers: The impartial chief justice, on the other hand Feminist Philosophers: Sotomayor and standpoint theory Feministe: Alito quote that sounds like Sotomayor’s empathetic, “identity […]

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