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Sotomayor hearings: Don't talk about the 'Marshall Effect'

Tott-thurgood_e2635ngw With Sen. John Cornyn again locking onto Judge Sotomayor's "wise Latina" remarks, the nominee has had to step back from gender and ethnic identity, which she has said many times define her.

So don't expect Sotomayor -- or the Democrats defending her on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- to discuss what was considered to be a major benefit that the Latina would bring to the bench.

When Sotomayor was nominated, much was made of the "Marshall Effect," the term coined for the effect of his presence on other justices.

Marshall often said he served as reminder to the white men on the court of the African American experience and the problems confronting the poor and disadvantaged.

Last week, Nan Aron, the president of the Alliance for Justice, a liberal advocacy group, wrote a letter to Sens. Patrick Leahy and Jeff Sessions saying Sotomayor could have a similar effect on this Supreme Court:

In sum, our examination of Judge Sotomayor’s record demonstrates her consistency and restraint as a jurist. Importantly, her very presence on the Court may have a “Marshall effect”: justices who sat with Justice Thurgood Marshall have noted that his presence in conference and on the bench changed their conversations and informed their decisions. As the Court’s first Hispanic and only its third woman, Judge Sotomayor may have a similar effect on the activist justices on the Court who appear intent on weakening our core constitutional, civil rights, environmental, and labor protections.

But you aren't like to hear much about that today, as this hearing has proved that airing such issues seem to be radioactive where Sotomayor is involved.

-- James Oliphant

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Photo: Thurgood Marshall in 1986. Credit: Associated Press

 
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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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