A Bronx cheer, but not a real Bronx cheer, but a cheer from the real Bronx for our soon to be newest member of the US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. She’s 54; I’m 54. (At least I will be for another five days or so. Oh, BTW, happy birthday, Rob.) She was born and raised in the Bronx. I was born (in Manhattan actually) but raised in the Bronx. She lived in a housing project in the South Bronx, and then moved to a Mitchell-Lama cooperative in the Bronx (Co-op City.) I lived in a Mitchell-Lama cooperative in the South (or Southish) Bronx. Okay, I didn’t go to Catholic school, or Princeton, or Yale Law School, but other than that, our backgrounds seem to be more or less identical. (And we look alike too, and talk alike, and you can lose your mind, when —I’m sure Sonia would get the reference.) So what does Sonia Sotomayor got than I ain’t got? Why is she going on the US Supreme Court, while I toil away in blogging anonymity?
I don’t know, but of course one answer, that one is already hearing among stupid white men (and those of all genders and races who think like stupid white men) is that because she was underprivileged, she had all the advantages, and had her path to the court smoothed by her hard road I success, and that she is being picked as a charity case, a political sop to her ethnic and gendered constituencies, another proof that white men (who with Sotormayor’s elevation will still control 2/3rds of the seats on the court with about 25% of the population) just don’t stand a chance. (After all, what has it been, five months or so since there was a white man who was president of the United States?) It is all so pathetic. The most interesting thing that has come out of her nomination is a silly debate about whether Benjamin Cardozo was Latino or Hispanic or not. Was Maimonides the first great Latino philosopher? If you were of Visigothic ancestry, would you check the Latino/Hispanic box on the census, or just list your ethnicity as Gothic? (Or Hunnish? Funny, you don’t look Hunnish.)
The one serious point I have to make about Judge Sotomayor is that she not only lived in a project in the South Bronx, but moved, in the late 1960s to Co-op City in the northwest Bronx, into a two bedroom apartment, sharing a bedroom with her brother. Now there has been a lot of nonsense written about Co-op City by the Jane Jacobs and Ada Louise Huxtables of the world (you can throw in Robert Caro if you want a white guy), and those looking for monocausal explanations of the decline of the Bronx, who have often seen Co-op City as the biggest monocause of them all, the vapid, sterile seductress luring middle class Jews to their doom (or at least, the Bronx’s doom) on the marshy grounds of a former amusement park, while their old homes on the Grand Concourse went to seed. First of all, as the Sotomayor’s circumstances indicate, a lot of people who moved to Co-op City were in the middle class only if the middle class is defined as more or less everyone who has steady employment. And as the Sotormayor’s circumstances also indicate, not every one who moved to Co-op City was Jewish, and not everyone came from the Grand Concourse. (No more than one-sixth or seventh of the 15,000 families were from the Concourse.) Co-op City, far from destroying the Bronx, has played a significant role in its revival, but this is another story to be told elsewhere.
But along with Gouverneur Morris, Edgar Allan Poe, Babe Ruth, Dion and the Belmonts, Herman Badillo, Colin Powell, and Afrika Bambaataa, Sonia Sotomayor takes her place in the pantheon of famous Bronxites, and maybe someday will warrant a bust in that moribund Bronx institution, the Hall of Fame of Great Americans. I am sure that Sotomayor will be a mighty vessel of jurisprudential excellence on the nation’s highest court, and I hope she does her bit to push it to the left, showering and flooding the court with her effusions of empathy. And it’s great to see someone from the Bronx, who grew up sort of like I grew up (though in much tougher circumstances), make it so far. Usually when you’re sitting on the bench in the Bronx, it means you’re not in the starting lineup. But Sonia’s starting, and playing. Everyone rise, ‘cause here comes the judge.