Political Diagnosis, Part II: Road to the Supreme Court is Paved with Public Humiliation; Surgeon General Nominee and Abortion; Asylum for Battered Women

By Christine Cupaiuolo — July 20, 2009

Road to the Supreme Court: It may not have been great theater, but the confirmation hearing of Judge Sonia Sotomayor did offer fire(fighters) without brimstone; a lesson on the dangers of nunchucks; the theory of neutral man’s burden; and many, many words.

Through it all, Sotomayor displayed nothing but “intelligence, grace and patience.” Melissa Harris-Lacewell describes the public humiliation Sotomayor endured as an Elizabeth Eckford moment.

It appears that  Sotomayor will be confirmed — with at least some Republican support — as the third woman and the first Latina on the Supreme Court. But as Frank Rich notes, Republicans still have some ‘splainin’ to do:

Southern senators who relate every question to race, ethnicity and gender just assumed that their unreconstructed obsessions are America’s and that the country would find them riveting. Instead the country yawned. The Sotomayor questioners also assumed a Hispanic woman, simply for being a Hispanic woman, could be portrayed as The Other and patronized like a greenhorn unfamiliar with How We Do Things Around Here.  […]

It’s the American way that we judge people as individuals, not as groups. And by that standard we can say unequivocally that this particular wise Latina, with the richness of her experiences, would far more often than not reach a better conclusion than the individual white males she faced in that Senate hearing room. Even those viewers who watched the Sotomayor show for only a few minutes could see that her America is our future and theirs is the rapidly receding past.

Plus: How many words, you ask? Politico crunched the numbers and determined that between the start of the confirmation hearing on Monday and the end of the senators’ primary questioning and comments on Thursday, senators out-talked Sotomayor by about a third.

“And Republicans – clearly more leery of the Democratic-nominated Sotomayor than those on the other side of the aisle — spent the most time with Sotomayor. The average Republican had 5,908 words to the Democrats 4,217,” writes Patrick Gavin.

Millions More Like Her: Regina Benjamin, the new surgeon general nominee, attended a Catholic elementary school and attends mass regulary. Her numerous honors include an award from Pope Benedict XVI and another inspired by Mother Teresa. But — and here’s the shocking part — Benjamin, a family physician who has spent her life providing health care to the rural poor, supports abortion rights.

Not so shocked? Neither is this Catholic school grad. But this Washington Post story plays it up, noting that Benjamin’s position on reproductive health services “potentially could put her at odds with the Catholic Church.”

The story goes on to note:

Those who know Benjamin said her beliefs will not interfere with her role as surgeon general, which would include acting as the country’s chief health educator. If confirmed, she would lead the 6,000-member uniformed Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, issue public health messages and advise the president and health and human services secretary.

“We all have our religions, but when you speak as the surgeon general to the American people, it’s not about your religion,” said David Satcher, a former surgeon general under President Bill Clinton. Satcher taught community health to Benjamin at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. “I don’t see why the surgeon general has to get involved in a discussion about abortion.”

Asylum for Battered Women: The pathway is a narrow corridor with strict conditions, but the Obama administration, reversing a Bush administration stance, has “opened the way for foreign women who are victims of severe domestic beatings and sexual abuse to receive asylum in the United States,” reports The New York Times. Julia Preston writes:

In addition to meeting other strict conditions for asylum, abused women will need to show that they are treated by their abuser as subordinates and little better than property, according to an immigration court filing by the administration, and that domestic abuse is widely tolerated in their country. They must show that they could not find protection from institutions at home or by moving to another place within their own country.

The administration laid out its position in an immigration appeals court filing in the case of a woman from Mexico who requested asylum, saying she feared she would be murdered by her common-law husband there.

According to court documents filed in San Francisco, the man repeatedly raped her at gunpoint, held her captive, stole from her and at one point tried to burn her alive when he learned she was pregnant.

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