Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Endangered Species: White Guys in the Supreme Court

Sounds like an exaggerated title, doesn't it? But saying equally stupid things in the New York Times is just fine. In an article consisting of questions for Eric Holder, Jeffrey Rosen (a law professor and the legal affairs editor of The New Republic) asked this:

4. Do you agree with Mr. Obama's implication that the Supreme Court needs someone who will side with the powerless rather than the powerful? What if the best nominee happens to be a white male?

Jeebus. So white males can't have empathy or side with the powerless? Or if 'siding with the powerless' is code for picking an African-American or a woman or preferably both (even in the same person), Rosen appears to worry that such person(s) wouldn't be quite good enough.

A. Serwer states the problems with all this well:

At any rate, this isn't an honest question. In picking a justice, there will be a number of qualified candidates, each of whom would bring different strengths to the court. It's not like there's a strict point system for evaluating candidates objectively and determining that one sound nominee is better than the other. At a certain point it becomes completely subjective. The question is merely a rhetorical justification for whining after the fact should Obama indeed choose to go over the one seat quota reserved for women and minorities on the court.

Yup. Such selection processes are not that different from the way students are selected for university admissions. The first round winnows out candidates which lack the necessary grades and scores and such. This usually leaves more qualified candidates than slots, so the next round consists of more subjective assessments. Something similar goes on with the hiring of new faculty.

Rosen's concern is not unusual, of course. Fears that affirmative action,say, means bypassing more qualified white and/or male candidates is what lies behind the resistance to it. For some odd reason the idea that discrimination (though perhaps hard to prove) makes institutions bypass more qualified African-American and/or female candidates every day doesn't provoke similar fears at all.