Friday, May 29, 2009

"Local (Seattle) Hispanic judge explains Sotomayor's comments"
With this week's nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court and a debate swirling around the relevance of her background to the bench, United State District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez figured he might get a few calls from local media.

Martinez is the Northwest's first Hispanic federal judge and the first Latino district judge in Washington state's history.

And yes, he said. That matters.
"We talk about how justice should be blind, and I think so, yes, absolutely. But every person that shows up in a courtroom should be able to see themselves reflected in the person up there making these calls," he said.

"If you're born to a very well to do family, go to private school your whole life, go through law school, Yale, you graduate, you come out, become a judge -- it doesn't gonna mean you're going to be a bad judge. But do you truly understand what it's like to put yourself to school? To have to work two jobs?"

Martinez moved to the United States from Mexico at 5 years old. His parents picked cotton on a Texas ranch before they moved to Washington state, where he became the first person in his family to graduate from high school, then college at the University of Washington. In 1980, he got his law degree at the UW School of Law. Twenty-four years later, he was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for Western Washington.

Like Sotomayor, Martinez has had to answer questions about how his background might impact his decisions. He understands why it's an issue with those scrutinizing Sotomayor, but objects to the "inflammatory partisanship" he said has already flooded the debate over her suitability with dishonest arguments and shallow opinions.

As for the much-cited 2001 speech in which Sotomayor said a "wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life" -- a comment that has become a target for her critics -- Martinez thinks it's been badly misinterpreted.

"I think what people are missing is, I don't think she was saying that from racist perspective. I think she was saying it from an 'I understand what you've gone through' perspective," he said.

"Wouldn't you want your judge to have some understanding of what it is that you've gone through when he or she makes the final decision that's going to impact you tremendously?"

But what some call understanding others suspect is bias, a perception that can put judges of diverse backgrounds on the stand, so to speak, to defend their integrity.

Martinez said he's been there.

"Someone once asked me, as a Hispanic judge, was I going to go easier on Hispanics? I found that very offensive," he said.

"I said no, and not only that -- I don't think a defendant standing in front of me would think that. I do think that what that person standing in front of me would think is that I'd be more fair."

Martinez said he's met every Supreme Court Justice except for Clarence Thomas. Sotomayor, he said, is well qualified to join them, with a respectable record and a stellar educational background that leaves "nothing to complain about."

He also likes the fact that she's been a district court judge. Of the nine justices currently serving on the U.S. Supreme Court, only David Souter, the justice Sotomayor would replace, has that experience.
Martinez said he looks forward to a lively confirmation hearing.

"This partisan bickering -- I hope that that is kept to a minimum and you really are looking at the qualifications of the individual," he said.

"Ultimately all we want is someone who is going to make this country better."

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