Cornyn to Sotomayor - Do as I say, not as I do
6 July 2009
Harrington: Cornyn to Sotomayor - Do as I say, not as I do
By James C. Harrington
AUSTIN, July 5 - To be sure, Sen. John Cornyn does some things right, such as pushing for better public information access from the federal government.
On other issues, however, he is either tone deaf or simply wafting whichever way the right-wing political winds carry him.
One such issue is how Cornyn frames his opposition to Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. For example, he posts a rhetorical “daily question” for Sotomayor on his Web site, usually some self-serving and not always accurate interpretation of a Supreme Court decision.
Cornyn says he wants to know if Sotomayor, by all accounts a very competent judge, “intends to be a justice ‘for all of us, or just for some of us’" – as if Cornyn were a senator “for all of us” or was a justice “for all of us” when he served on the Texas Supreme Court from 1991-1997. He is not, and was not; but he thinks he can demand of others what he’s not. One smells the sweet scent of hypocrisy.
Texas has been a minority-majority state since at least 2006. Yet, if you look at the hundreds of photos under his Web site’s “Cornyn Photo Gallery” about the senator’s meetings, trips, etc., you could easily come away with the idea that Texas is basically an all-Anglo state, mainly populated by males.
When he was on the state supreme court, his “for all of us” record was dismal. Our office published an employment survey of briefing attorneys for that court for 1988-1998 (“Texas Courts: Equal Opportunity Employers?” 1998). Briefing attorneys are critical positions for promising young lawyers right out of law school. It is a stepping stone to lucrative employment at prestigious law firms after a year or two with the court. Yet, during Cornyn’s tenure as a justice, those positions were not “for all of us”: 87.3 percent of the briefing attorneys were Caucasian; 4.0 percent, Hispanic; 2.3 percent African American; and 58.3 percent male. Hardly reflective of Texas. The Commission of Judicial Efficiency had warned Cornyn and his colleagues in 1996 about the serious lack of diversity in their hiring practices, but Cornyn didn’t seem to care much.
The senator touts being vice-chair of the Senate Republican Conference Task Force on Hispanic Affairs, but the task force essentially appears to be more about self-promotion and résumé padding than doing something worthwhile.
Cornyn also seems to have difficulty, whether real or feigned, with the idea that justices of different backgrounds help the Supreme Court make better decisions. Would he really argue that Sandra Day O’Connor’s tenure on the high court did not help bring a better understanding of women’s issues? Her understanding of discrimination was informed by the fact the best job she could find after law school was a secretary’s – such was the level of bias against women attorneys.
The jury system is a guiding star in the American justice system because it brings together all elements of the community to render as just a verdict as possible. If that sort of wisdom and experience is best for jury decision-making, why is it not good for the Supreme Court?
Can it be that Cornyn’s version of “what’s good for all of us” doesn’t really include all of us? His personal history as a senator and a judge seems to render that verdict.
James C. Harrington, is director of the Texas Civil Rights Project. The Texas Civil Rights Project, a nonprofit foundation, promotes civil rights and economic and racial justice throughout Texas.