Cookie Cutters

by digby

Chris Matthews, speaking for oppressed white male millionaires everywhere says:

Will he go to the usual cookie cutter. He's supposed to pick a latina, a hispanic woman, would be a woman. Would he do that just because that's sort of the unfilled void in his patronage plan so far?

Robinson: I don't know. I doubt it.

Matthews: Sonya Sotomayor from New York.

Simon: He wouldn't do it just because, but if you;'re asking if there was a qualified latina out there would he ...

Matthews: Well, there is one.

Simon: would he recognize the symbolism of it and would he say, this would be a good move both for the country and the court...

Matthews: Even if she was involved in a case which involved firefighters and the old question of the white firefighters fighting for their position and holding to what they have against the new breed guys, the people of color coming along? That's the kind of fight that goes on all the time.

Right, I guess a cookie cutter candidate is now someone who is a darker hued, feminine kind of cookie. After all, the women and the minorities are just overflowing the Supreme Court with unqualified losers and the poor white guys can't catch a break. This absurd conversation is happening all over TV today.

Ezra does a nice take down of this stupid talking point:

But some of the successive commentary made it seem like it was America, and not just its eager white men, who would suffer from this noxious bit of discrimination. After all, if you're not auditioning white males, how do you know you're getting the best candidate? As Emily Miller, a former Tom DeLay staffer, wrote at Politics Daily, "We want to have the smartest, hardest working and best qualified person." And if that person is a white male, then so be it.


For all the talk of ideal candidates, Supreme Court nominations are generally grubby and instrumental things. Members of both parties live in fear of an Earl Warren or a David Souter: a qualified nominee who unexpectedly pursues an ideologically independent course. They cast about for nominees with enough of a paper trail to assure predictability (no more Souters!) but not enough of a paper trail to guarantee controversy (no more Borks!). They search out young candidates -- the average age in recent years has been 53 -- because the typical length of a justice's tenure has shot from its pre-1970 average of 14.9 years to 25.6 years, and no president wants to risk exerting only two decades of influence on the Court.

In comparison to all this, the case for including gender diversity in the search process is downright high-minded. The United States Supreme Court is 88 percent male and 77 percent white male. And this is actually a fairly diverse moment in the Court's history. As Adam Serwer pointed out, "There have been 110 Justices on the Supreme Court. Of those, two have been women, and two have been black. The other 106 have been white men. That means that around 96 percent of Supreme Court Justices have been white men."

I actually heard this colorblind argument quite a bit even in liberal circles during the Obama transition, when the argument was made that he should choose only on the basis of who was "best" for the job. I'm pretty sure these were all people who've never hired anyone for a job. As Ezra points out, it is rarely a purely meritocratic decision in the real world, with all sorts of different factors coming into play, in recent years diversity being one of them. And that doesn't just come out of some misplaced political correctness. Studies show that diversity is a useful for its own sake, particularly on the courts.

I'm finding myself screaming at the TV even more than usual when I hear this ridiculous whine that putting a woman or hispanic on the court is some kind of "patronage" choice, as if it's impossible that they could be as qualified as some white male. It reminds me of a boss I once had few years ago who, after interviewing a number of people for mid-level job said, "you know I'd really like to hire a female or a person of color for the job but I just don't feel as though any of them have quite the same potential as the white guys." When I wondered why he thought that, he said, completely without guile, "well, how many successful people of color or women do you know?" And around and around it goes.

After making the mistake of putting his friend Harriet Miers up for nomination and angering the conservative intelligentsia, George W. Bush put two more white guys on the court to great approbation of the entire village for his wonderful choice of "extremely qualified" people for the job. It's quite clear that contrary to what Matthews says, the cookie cutter choice is a white male. To say that Obama is being predictable by considering women and men of color is bizarroworld nonsense that only people in the insular beltway bubble would blurt out as if it makes sense.