Law & Courts

From the Confirmation Hearings

August 06, 2009 4 min read

Last month’s confirmation hearings gave then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and her questioners a chance to address issues affecting schools and education. Among the highlights:

On Racial Issues and Discrimination

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas: “Do you agree with Chief Justice John Roberts when he says [in the majority opinion in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District that] the best way to stop discriminating based on race is to stop discriminating based on race?”

Read the main story on Sotomayor’s confirmation.

Sotomayor: “The best way to live in our society is to follow the command of the Constitution, provide equal opportunity for all. ... And I follow what the Constitution says, that is, how the law should be structured and how it should be applied to whatever individual circumstances come before the court.”

Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis.: “Do you believe that affirmative action is a necessary part of our society today? Do you agree with [former] Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor [who said] that she expects in 25 years the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to promote diversity?”

Sotomayor: “The Constitution promotes and requires the equal protection of law of all citizens in its 14th Amendment. To ensure that protection, there are situations in which race in some form must be considered; the courts have recognized that. Equality requires effort, and so there are some situations in which some form of race has been recognized by the court. It is firmly my hope ... that in 25 years race in our society won’t be needed to be considered in any situation. That’s the hope. And we’ve taken such great strides in our society to achieve that hope. But there are situations in which there are compelling state interests, and, the [higher education] admissions case that Justice O’Connor was looking at, the court recognized that in the education field.”

Sen. Kohl: “You’ve told us that you will follow the law and follow precedent, and you’ve made a very big point of this, and that’s all well and good. But some of the court’s most important ... landmark rulings overruled long-standing precedent, like Brown v. Board of Education, which ended legal segregation. ... So tell us how you will decide when it is appropriate to alter, amend, or even overrule precedent.”

Sotomayor: “Brown v. Board of Education has often been described as a radical change by some, and the public perceives it as a radical change. When you actually look at its history, you realize that there had been jurisprudence for over 20 years by the court, striking down certain—certain schemes that provided ‘separate but equal’ but in fact didn’t achieve their stated goal. And so there was underpinnings in Brown v. Board of Education that—in those precedents that came before Brown that obviously gave the court some cause, some reason to rethink this issue of ‘separate but equal.’ ”

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.: “I think about the Gant [v. Wallingford Board of Education] case that you ruled in, a 6-year-old black child who was removed from school and was treated rather harshly. ... And in your dissent, you stated that treatment this ‘lone black child’ encountered ... [was] unprecedented and contrary to the school’s established policy. Justice Blackmun spoke: In order to get beyond race, we first must take race in, account for race. And if you ignore race completely, aren’t you ignoring facts that are important in a particular case?”

Sotomayor: “Well, it depends on the context of the case that you’re looking at. In the Gant case, for example, there were a variety of different challenges brought by the plaintiff to the conduct that was alleged the school had engaged in. I joined the majority in dismissing some of the claims as not consistent with law. But in that case, there was a disparate treatment element, and I pointed out to [sic] the set of facts that showed or presented evidence of that disparate treatment. That’s the quote that you were reading from, that this was a sole child who was treated completely different than other children of a different race in the services that he was provided with and in the opportunities he was given to remedy or to receive remedial help.”

On the Importance of Education

Sotomayor: “On her own, my mother raised my brother and me. She taught us that the key to success in America is a good education. And she set the example, studying alongside my brother and me at our kitchen table so she could become a registered nurse.”

Sotomayor: “By the time a criminal defendant ends up in court, they’ve been shaped by their lives. ... The success of communities depends on us improving the quality of our education of children and of parental participation in ensuring that happens in our society. ... We cannot remedy the ills of society in a courtroom. We can only apply the law to the facts before us.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 12, 2009 edition of Education Week as From the Confirmation Hearings

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Addressing Learning Loss: What Schools Need to Accelerate Reading Instruction in K-3
When K-3 students return to classrooms this fall, there will be huge gaps in foundational reading skills. Does your school or district need a plan to address learning loss and accelerate student growth? In this
Content provided by PDX Reading
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts 'I Just Want to Play.' Judge Halts W. Va. Law Barring Transgender Girls From Girls' Sports
Ruling for an 11-year-old transgender girl, the judge holds that the law likely violates the equal-protection clause and Title IX.
3 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+
Law & Courts Praying Coach v. District That Suspended Him: What's Next in Fight Over Religious Expression
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit declined to reconsider an earlier panel ruling that sided with the school district.
4 min read
Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy, center in blue, kneels and prays after his team lost to Centralia in Bremerton, Wash., on Oct. 16, 2015. Kennedy, who was suspended for praying at midfield after games, has filed a discrimination complaint on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015 with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission according to The Liberty Institute, a Texas-based law firm representing the coach.
Joe Kennedy, center in blue, kneels and prays after a game in October 2015 when he was the assistant football coach at Bremerton High School in Bremerton, Wash. In a long-running legal fight, Kennedy contends he has First Amendment free-speech and free-exercise-of-religion rights to express his Christian faith while on the job. The case is likely headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lindsey Wasso/The Seattle Times via AP
Law & Courts Appeals Court Again Backs Transgender Student, But on Narrower Grounds Amid Signs of Rift
A federal appeals panel removed a holding for student Drew Adams based on Title IX, perhaps to ward off a rehearing by the full court.
4 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+
Law & Courts Schools Will Get At Least $25 Million From Opioid Lawsuit
Lawyers are aiming to place significantly more money into the grant program as school districts' lawsuits against opioid companies continue.
3 min read
This June 17, 2019, photo shows 5-mg pills of Oxycodone.
This June 17, 2019, photo shows 5-mg pills of Oxycodone.
Keith Srakocic/AP