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At this point, the confirmation
battle over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will hinge in part on
whether the media want to fact-check her critics. So far, the press is
Right-wing critics and politicians have been circulating comments Sotomayor made in 2001
at UC Berkeley. One quote has been replayed endlessly: "I would hope
that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would
more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who
hasn't lived that life." (Sometimes the quote is replayed without the
"I would hope that" qualifier--e.g., NBC Nightly News, 5/31/09.)
Does Sotomayor believe that Latina judges are wiser than white judges?
That's what her right-wing critics want the quote to mean. Washington Post
columnist Charles Krauthammer characterized (5/28/09) her views as "the
superior wisdom she believes her Latina physiology, culture and
background grant her over a white male judge." And as CNN host Lou Dobbs put it (6/1/09),
"She said more often than not a Latino judge would reach a better
decision than a white male." That message has been carried mostly
uncritically in much of the corporate media, thanks largely to a
willingness to let right-wing pundits frame the discussion--often with
little in the way of rebuttal from Sotomayor's defenders.
In the May 27 Washington Post, Howard Kurtz quoted that sentence along with a Fox News host calling Sotomayor a reverse racist. On May 28, the New York Times
ran a story headlined "Sotomayor's Opponents and Allies Prepare
Strategies." The piece recounted the controversial sentence, followed
by the reaction of Newt Gingrich--he thinks she's a racist who should
withdraw her name--and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who doesn't think
she should withdraw, but was nonetheless troubled by some of
But anyone who reads Sotomayor's 2001 speech can see that the
prevailing media discussion is totally misleading. Her point was that
people's backgrounds affect how they see the world. This would seem to
be a rather uncontroversial fact of life; justices Sandra Day O'Connor
and Samuel Alito made similar statements about their own backgrounds to
no great controversy.
In regards to cases involving race and gender discrimination, which was
the topic under discussion, Sotomayor was arguing that the experience
of facing discrimination may help in judging such cases--pointing out
that despite the presumption that "a wise old man and wise old woman
will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases," such wise old men as
Oliver Wendell Holmes and Benjamin Cardozo "voted on cases which upheld
both sex and race discrimination in our society." She added: "Let us
not forget that until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim
of a woman in a gender discrimination case."
It's not so hard to explain the context, but NBC's Meet the Press
host David Gregory bungled his attempt to do so on May 31, excerpting
primarily the lines from Sotomayor's address that buttress the claims
of her right-wing critics, while leaving out the lines that make it
clear that Sotomayor was advocating that judges strive to put aside
their prejudices. His excerpt closed with this line: "Personal
experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that
I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further
into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly
what the difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be
some based on my gender and my Latina heritage." But Gregory left out
But the framing of the debate over Sotomayor has been about more than
this one speech. In some cases, the right's critique is driving the
journalism--no matter what the facts say. On May 29, the New York Times
featured a front-page examination of Sotomayor's work with the Puerto
Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund: "Sotomayor's involvement with
the defense fund has so far received scant attention. But her critics,
including some Republican senators who will vote on her nomination,
have questioned whether she has let her ethnicity, life experiences and
public advocacy creep into her decisions as a judge." The article
managed to not include anyone who took issue with that suggestion; it
referenced only a single case that Sotomayor participated in, and
concluded by letting right-wing activist Curt Levey suggest that it
showed that "she had a very specific agenda here" (FAIR Blog, 5/29/09).
The next day, the Times (5/30/09)
featured a front-page piece headlined "Sotomayor's Focus on Race Issues
May Be Hurdle." The premise of the article was that "conservatives say
her strong identification with such race-based approaches to the law is
perhaps the strongest argument against her confirmation, contending
that her views put her outside an evolving consensus that such
race-conscious public policy is growing obsolete." That theme was
fleshed out with quotes from Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Gary Marx
of the right-wing Judicial Confirmation Network--but no discussion of
Sotomayor's actual record on these issues.
The Los Angeles Times, by
contrast, did look at that record--and found experts who undermined the
right-wing criticism of Sotomayor. As the paper reported (5/31/09),
"Little of that activist sentiment is revealed in the hundreds of cases
Sotomayor has decided in her 11 years on the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of
Appeals.... Thomas Goldstein, a Washington lawyer with a Supreme Court
specialty, said last week that he had reviewed 50 appeals involving
race in which Sotomayor participated. In 45 of those cases, a
three-judge panel rejected the discrimination claim--and Sotomayor
never once dissented, he said."
Unfortunately, the next day the L.A. Times (6/1/09)
was back to a more conventional approach ("GOP Senators Bring Race
Issue to Forefront of Sotomayor Nomination"), dwelling primarily on
conservative criticism of Sotomayor, only adding in the final sentence
of the piece: "And early analyses of her judicial opinions--most
notably one released Friday by the respected legal website SCOTUSblog [5/29/09]--undercut
the attacks on Sotomayor as a judge more interested in boosting
minorities by showing that the vast majority of her rulings rejected
claims of discrimination by minorities." Journalism that led with such
facts instead of burying them would make the confirmation battle look
very different indeed.
FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints.
"States should take positive measures to ensure that children are protected from foreseeable premature or unnatural death and threats to their lives," reads the updated document
A group of children in Portugal who are expected to present arguments in a climate case at the European Court of Human Rights next month may have a stronger legal standing following a formal opinion issued Monday by a United Nations committee, which affirms that the climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises present "an urgent and systemic threat to children's rights globally."
After consulting with more than 16,000 children in more than 120 countries, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child updated the 1989 Convention on children's rights to say that there is an urgent need to address the "triple planetary crisis" and to explain "how children's rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child apply to environmental protection, and confirms that children have a right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment."
"The right to life is threatened by environmental degradation, including climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss, which are closely linked to other fundamental challenges impeding the realization of this right, including poverty, inequality, and conflict," reads the document, which was updated after a two-year period of gathering input from children around the world. "States should take positive measures to ensure that children are protected from foreseeable premature or unnatural death and threats to their lives that may be caused by acts and omissions, as well as the activities of business actors, and enjoy their right to life with dignity."
The formal opinion—called General Comment No. 26—and updated document were released four weeks before the Portuguese case is set to go to court, where six children are preparing to argue that the 33 member-states of the European Union have failed to fight the climate crisis and to seek a legally binding decision requiring the countries to make immediate, deeper cuts to their fossil fuel emissions.
At least 19 other cases filed by youths in countries including Brazil, the United States, and Indonesia make similar arguments, and legal analysts said Monday that the updated treaty may help the young people in court.
"This could definitely strengthen their hand because now there's a fully articulated set of guidance that pulls everything together in one place," lawyer Ann Skelton, who chairs the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, told Reuters.
Noam Peleg, a law professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, wrote at The Conversation that the changes offer "a practical guide to help children" fight their government's continued support of planet-heating fossil fuels and clarifies that governments have an obligation to protect children from the climate emergency as part of their duty to defend human rights.
"The general comment also identifies children as agents in their own lives," said Peleg. "By extension, this means children have a right to participate in the drafting of environmental policies or laws that will affect them."
As Common Dreamsreported last month, climate litigation has emerged in recent years as a key driver of climate justice.
The committee's changes were announced two weeks after a state judge in Montana ruled that the state violated the constitutional rights of 16 young residents by promoting fossil fuel extraction.
"Children worldwide have been leading the fight against climate change; calling on their governments and corporations to take action to protect the planet and their future," said David Boyd, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and the environment. "With its General Comment No. 26, the Committee on the Rights of the Child not only echoes and amplifies children's voices, but also clearly defines the rights of children in relation to the environment that state parties should respect, protect and fulfill collectively and urgently."
Some young people and advocates who were consulted by the committee had pushed the panel to put the world's children in an even stronger legal position by calling on countries to take action beyond that which is demanded by the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which calls for emissions cuts that would limit planetary heating to 1.5°C above preindustrial temperatures.
Kelly Matheson, deputy director of global climate litigation at Our Children's Trust—which represented the children in the Montana case—toldReuters that the new document represents "such a missed opportunity."
"It's an exercise in incrementalism instead of taking quantum leap forward," Matheson said.
Committee member Philip Jaffé toldReuters that climate leader Greta Thunberg, who at 15 began a protest outside the Swedish Parliament that grew into the global school strike demanding climate action, had called on the panel "to be more vigorous and somewhat bolder."
"Mr. Trump, like any defendant will have to make the trial date work, regardless of his schedule," said the judge.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan on Monday scheduled former President Donald Trump's trial for the federal case stemming from his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and provoke the January 6, 2021 insurrection for March 4, 2024.
Chutkan, whom former President Barack Obama appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, rejected Special Counsel Jack Smith's proposed January 2, 2024 trial date and the Trump legal team's bid to push it until April 2026, after the next presidential election.
"Setting a trial date does not depend and should not depend on a defendant's personal and professional obligations," Chutkan reportedly said in court Monday. "Mr. Trump, like any defendant will have to make the trial date work, regardless of his schedule."
After Trump announced his current presidential campaign last year, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Smith, the special counsel also responsible for the federal case involving the ex-president's handling of classified documents.
Despite four ongoing legal cases for which he faces a total of 91 charges, Trump is leading the crowded field of candidates for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination by a significant margin, according to various polls. The GOP nominee is expected to face Democratic President Joe Biden, who beat Trump in 2020 and is now seeking reelection.
The group called on the U.S. to suspend military aid to Israel until it stops its "grave abuses" against Palestinians.
Mahmoud al-Sadi was walking to high school in the occupied West Bank late last year when he was gunned down by Israeli forces, which did not directly acknowledge—let alone investigate—the fatal shooting.
Al-Sadi was among the dozens of Palestinian children who were killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank in 2022, the deadliest 12-month period for kids in the besieged territory in more than 15 years.
According to a report released Monday by Human Rights Watch (HRW), this year is on track to be just as bad—and possibly even deadlier—for Palestinian children living in the West Bank, where around a third of the population is under the age of 14.
As of last week, HRW found, Israeli forces had killed at least 34 Palestinian kids in the West Bank this year, facing no discernable accountability for the shootings.
HRW's new report focuses specifically on four recent incidents, including the shooting of al-Sadi—who was 17 years old at the time of his death—and the killings of Adam Ayyad (15), Wadea Abu Ramuz (17), and Mohammed al-Sleem (17).
Citing interviews with witnesses, family members, and others, HRW found that in each of the four cases, "Israeli forces shot the children's upper bodies, without... issuing warnings or using common, less-lethal measures such as tear gas, concussion grenades, or rubber-coated bullets."
Ayyad was shot from behind by Israeli forces earlier this year as they raided Deheisheh refugee camp. HRW's report notes that Ayyad was "with a group of boys throwing stones and at least one Molotov cocktail at Israeli forces."
The soldier who fatally shot Ayyad also shot and wounded a 13-year-old child, witnesses told the human rights group, which has characterized Israel's unceasing brutalization and oppression of Palestinians as apartheid.
"Israeli forces are gunning down Palestinian children living under occupation with increasing frequency," Bill Van Esveld, associate children's rights director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "Unless Israel's allies, particularly the United States, pressure Israel to change course, more Palestinian children will be killed."
"Palestinian children live a reality of apartheid and structural violence, where they could be gunned down at any time without any serious prospect of accountability,” Van Esveld added. "Israel's allies should confront this ugly reality and create real pressure for accountability."
"Palestinian children live a reality of apartheid and structural violence, where they could be gunned down at any time without any serious prospect of accountability."
Israel's military is operating under the far-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose administration and governing coalition are packed with extremists bent on
fully annexing the West Bank and wiping out Palestinian towns.
Israeli forces frequently deny responsibility for fatal shootings of children and other civilians, or claim such killings were an accidental result of a firefight with nearby militants.
In al-Sadi's case, HRW found, "the Israeli military did not address or announce any intention to investigate Mahmoud's killing, but said its forces were conducting arrest raids and exchanged fire with Palestinian fighters. There were no reports that Israeli troops were injured."
"The exchanges of fire occurred when Israeli forces surrounded the family homes of two alleged fighters, and the nearest home was about 320 meters from where Mahmoud was shot," HRW's report states. "A security-camera video, which Human Rights Watch viewed, showed him wearing his school backpack, standing alone, and not holding any weapon or rock, just before he took a step into the street and was shot, his father and the classmate said. The shooting in the distance had stopped and the military was withdrawing when Mahmoud's classmate said he heard a gunshot."
While doing nothing to investigate and pursue accountability for the soldier who killed al-Sadi, the Israeli government "canceled Mahmoud's father's permit to enter Israel, where he worked," HRW noted.
The group observed that Israel "views relatives as aggrieved 'potential avengers' and automatically cancels their work permits as a security measure, harming them through a blanket policy that offers no meaningful individual assessments."
Amid intensifying attacks in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers and settlers, progressive U.S. lawmakers have demanded action from Congress and the Biden administration to ensure American military aid is not enabling Israeli abuses.
Human Rights Watch argued in its report that "foreign governments such as the U.S., which pledged $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel in 2023, should condition assistance on Israel taking concrete and verifiable steps toward ending their serious abuses, including the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution and the regular use of lethal force against Palestinians, including children, that violate international standards, and to investigate past abuses."
"It should suspend assistance so long as these grave abuses persist," the group added.
HRW's report also calls on the International Criminal Court to "expedite" its