Wednesday, June 3, 2009


We generally don't think of blindness as an inherently good quality to have. Sure, we recognize that blindness may very well have led to the acute auditory discernment that helped make Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles the phenomenal musicians that they were, but given the choice none of us would take blindness over our eyesight. We have the choice of "optional blindness," i.e. closing our eyes, and we can end that whenever it becomes inconvenient.

We frequently use "blind" as an epithet. Those who don't agree with our point of view are considered "blind." "You're just blind to the truth!" we say. "Hey ref, are you BLIND?!" we scream at the official who missed a call that would benefit our team. Or we use it as hyperbole: "This problem is so obvious a blind man could see it."

Yet we uphold blindness as a virtue in one area: justice. Justice must be blind. Justice must be based on principle, on truth, on an unyielding standard equally applied to all regardless of external characteristics which have no moral value. Blind justice. This is why courthouses across America have statues of Justice as a blindfolded woman holding the scales to weigh evidence.

We are aware that our history is full of examples where justice has not been applied blindly: discrimination for economic, sexual, and racial reasons is easy to find with a little research. Our laws, both local and federal, have undergone amendments and revisions to adjust for a growing understanding that people must be judged on their actions, the "content of their character," as Dr. King would say, and not on their skin color, property holdings, fame, political affiliation, or gender.

Now, I've met people who think I'm a racist. I know that they think that way because they've told me. "But I'm not a racist!" I protest. "Well, you just don't realize it because you've grown up that way," they retort. What else is there to add? I'm a southern white male. Of course I'm racist. (One of these people grew up in the north, and apparently this opinion of southerners is quite common in her neck of the woods. They know it's true, so evidence to the contrary is pointless.) Now, I've served in the Army under a lieutenant of Korean descent, a black commander, a black sergeant major, two black first sergeants, plus a commander and a first sergeant who were female, in addition to having had roommates who were from Japan and Mexico, respectively. I managed to get along just fine with all these people and treated them as I would anyone of my own background. At no point did I ever suspect that ethnic heritage or economic upbringing or gender were responsible for any bad, or good, decisions that were made by any of those people. Most of those people are folks that I hope to serve with or work with again someday. They are people of good character. ( really got on my nerves, but that's because he had no people skills. He managed to irritate everyone. But again, by irritating everyone he showed no favoritism, and that is a commendable trait. Sort of.) And I was brought up to judge people based on the content of their character, not their looks.

Apparently, though, there are too many people who stand to benefit from racial division to let it die away like it should have decades ago. Some think that the experiences of a Latina result in better judgment than the experiences of a white male. Some think that criticism of the people who make such statements is racist. Some think that judges of certain ethnic backgrounds should not be subjected to any scrutiny. Many of these same people had no problems publically assaulting the character of a black man with an excellent judicial record and sterling reputation because he didn't share their political views. They couldn't even find two people who could consistently defame this man, contrary to every other character witness produced, but all these years later it is virtually impossible to seperate Clarence Thomas's public image from that of Anita Hill. They slammed Miguel Estrada repeatedly as an extremist despite his distinguished record in the legal profession, and then held up his nomination with a filibuster, preventing him from even defending himself in a confirmation hearing. And these same people have the gall to warn off those who criticize a justice who claims, with no hint of irony, that the appellate court is where policy is made? (Go check the second and third articles of the U.S. Constitution; it is quite clear on the role of the courts, and in fact gives the courts the most limited powers in the government, partly because justices are appointed and not elected, thus they are only tangentially related to the representative government outlined in the document.) Perhaps she can explain her views and opinions better. Perhaps she can assuage concerns that she will rule based on her feelings and biases, rather than the clear statutes of the Constitution. She deserves a chance to make it clear that white males need have no worries that she will rule against them because of a prejudicial attitude. But her supporters should not expect her to get a free ride. The Democratic Party has shown no desire to coddle minorities nominated by Republicans. For the Republican opposition to lie down and roll over in this situation would show that they are governed by fear, not principle. They must be fair, but they must also be firm. They must be tough. They must not shirk their responsibility as "loyal opposition" to hold their opponents to rigorous standards for political appointments. To do otherwise would be...well....blind.

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