The most the Republicans have been able to say against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is a phrase she used in a few speeches over a decade ago, in which she stated that a wise Latina woman might have more to offer in terms of justice that a white man. As a white man, I think she's got it just about right.
The Republicans have responded that she is using "reverse racism", and this indicates she can't be fair and impartial on the bench. Let us move beyond the part that, while anyone can have prejudice, racism can only be expressed by the group in power. I'm interested in looking at what the Gospel says.
Jesus' mission statement was that he had come to bring good news to the poor and freedom for the oppressed. Some of why he was killed was certainly because of this mission. Everywhere he went, he looked for those who were outcast from society, as Luke especially convincingly shows us. He was there for the blind, the lepers, the women, the tax-collectors, and the Samaritans. His Gospel is decidedly not good news for those in power. It was good news for those who were not in power, who were being held down by the Man, whoever that might be. At that time and place, it was the ruling Jewish authorities and the Romans. Jesus didn't look for men and women of power in his society, but consistently searched for those without, so that their power would so obviously come from God. He came for the sick, not the healthy; for the blind, not the sighted. And by this he was clear- we are all in need of the Doctor, but only if we recognize where and how we are sick, blind, and oppressed; only if we give up our power. The Gospel was never for those in power, and can never be. Jesus came to bring Jubilee, an Upside-down Kingdom, a complete change to the way life is done, where those who were oppressed don't become the oppressor, but rather grab hold of justice and teach the oppressor how to love.
Now we return to Justice Sotomayor's comment on the wise Latina. It goes without saying that we need diversity in all aspects of life, and certainly a few more people of colour in the highest court in the land. But multiculturalism and affirmative action were always of value not simply because of this. They were and are of value because of the unique contribution that other cultures can bring. And as a Christian I am mandated to go further. Those who come from groups who have not been in power, who have historically experienced the brunt of racism and oppression, are precisely those we can learn the most from. They are those that Christ came for. They are the foundations of leadership in the coming Kingdom.
We need those dispensing justice to be intimately familiar with the miscarriage of justice. We need them to be acting in the person of Christ, to be his ambassadors, looking out for those who are oppressed and bringing in justice. And so, yes, a Latina justice- a woman of colour- can offer something unique, and is better in this position that a white man. She is better able, on average, to represent who Christ is.
But only on average. There are plenty of Latinas who would make poorer justices than plenty of white men. And that's why we need a wise Latina- someone who knows how to dispense justice with that gentle rain from Heaven, the quality of mercy not strained.