Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Lie of Context-less Judgment

The nomination of the Hon. Sonia Sotomayor to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court has raised again the question of how context influences our judgments. To listen to some who oppose her nomination you would conclude that it is possible to make decisions that are not at all influenced by our own contexts. Judge Sotomayor understands and acknowledges that her experiences will influence her decisions, but why is that a problem for some people?

Those of us who belong to the dominant group in our country - or in any profession - can be tempted to believe that our belonging to that group does not influence our decisions. It is probably harder for someone from a minority group to be tempted in that way. But no matter our own context, our own life story, our own ethnicity, the challenge is to recognize how context influences our judgment. Denying that it does can blind us to our responsibility to make sure that context does not have an undue influence on our decisions.

If Judge Sotomayor becomes Justice Sotomayor - and I hope she does - I suspect that there will be plenty of people warning her against the danger of letting context become too great an influence. But who will be reminding the white male Justices of the same danger?

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