Watching Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and the other Republican Judiciary Committee members attack Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as a racist last week over her statement that her background as a “wise Latina” would help her decide cases, it suddenly hit me. I am supremely qualified to be the next SC justice if her nomination is rejected or if another SC member retires on President Obama’s watch. I am perfectly qualified because I am a Jew who can say in all truthfulness that I have not been influenced by my background.
Yes, I know that in religious school I learned Hillel’s summary of the Torah: “Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you.” But that’s so negative. Isn’t it? Double negative, in fact. Who could be influenced by such a theological position? Anyhow, the better-known version (spoken by another Jew but that’s only a coincidence) is much more positive. That’s probably the one that shaped me.
During my graduate school years, I studied Jewish-American literature, but only because I majored in creative writing and Jews are, after all, “people of the book” so I figured they would be good writers. The tales I read of men and women scrimping for a living in the shtetls of eastern Europe and finding strength in family, community, and tradition had a lasting effect on me: They made me realize that, yes, Jews were good writers.
It’s true that my ancestors fled the pogroms at the beginning of the last century to come to America. As the family genealogist, I heard those stories and, strictly as a writer and historian, recorded them. And, yes, many relatives who stayed behind in the old Austria-Hungary (what today would be Rumania) died in Auschwitz. I judiciously added their names to my family tree even though I never met them. My interest was strictly academic and anal retentive—it would have been untidy and incomplete of me to not include them.
Later I wrote two books about Holocaust survivors, one about a girl from Auschwitz who was invited to participate in Dr. Mengele’s last selection of the entire war and actually spent 18 hours in a gas chamber but survived because the Nazis were more concerned about starting the cover-up than they were gassing another 100 women; and the other about a Belgian Jew who posed as a Christian and fought in the maquis, the French resistance in southern France. But they were exciting stories. Can you blame me? I would have been crazy to pass up those opportunities. Do you think the girl met any of my relatives while she was in Auschwitz? Just curious.
Passover is my favorite night of the year. Any excuse to bring my family together is reason enough to celebrate for me. Every year during the Seder we are reminded that “We were strangers, too, in the land of Egypt.” But there’s no way that has anything to do with my solidarity with the plight of the poor and the dispossessed in America. After all, how many of them came from Egypt?
So I feel confident in saying that I am bias-free. I have what it takes to be on the highest court in the land. Like my hero, Justice Samuel Alito.
[He said what? “When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.” Oops.]
I mean, like my hero, Justice Clarence Thomas.
[He said what? “I believe … that I can make a contribution, that I can bring something different to the Court, that I can walk in the shoes of the people who are affected by what the Court does.” Oops.]
I mean, I have what it takes because it takes a real man to not be influenced by his background enough to be a Supreme Court justice and I am much more of a man than Sonia Sotomayor. Any day of the week.