When I was a first year student at Yale Law School, some of the upper level students organized a conference on “Women of Color and the Law.” The speakers at this conference spoke about the failure of our law to adequately address the needs of women of color, and the role of women of color as lawyers. The conference had a strong impact on me and my friends. While in law school, we focused in our classes and our extracurricular activities on the law’s relationship to women of color and other people who have been historically disempowered in out society. After law school, as a legal services lawyer in the South side of Chicago, I personally witnessed the failure of the law to address the needs of my clients, who were primarily women of color. Now, there is a woman of color, Sonya Sotomayor, who is about to become a member of the top Court in our country. I never would have imagined this moment when I was in law school, or when I was a practicing lawyer.
As far as I know, Sotomayor was not present at the Women of Color Conference. It occurred years after she graduated from Yale. However, during her hearings she has found herself discussing some of the issues addressed by the speakers at that meeting – the impact of a experience on how a person understands the law, and the importance of a judge mitigating his or her personal views when he or she is interpreting the law. In a world dedicated to the myth that justice is blind (that is, that judges are not influenced by their backgrounds and experiences), her nuanced explanations are a tough sell. Fortunately, she is maintaining her composure, and her strong record and the large Democratic majority in the Senate virtually insure that she will be confirmed. I look forward to that day.