Supreme Court Smackdowns: Sotomayor Vs. ThomasS

Sonia Sotomayor just penned her first opinion on a case as a Supreme Court Justice. The Court's decision was unanimous, Sotomayor laid out the facts - but Clarence Thomas had to emerge from the shadows to complain about "value judgments."

The decision was unanimous, but Justice Clarence Thomas declined to join the part of Justice Sotomayor's opinion discussing why the cost of allowing immediate appeals outweighs the possibility that candid communications between lawyers and their clients might be chilled.

In a concurrence, Justice Thomas took a swipe at his new colleague, saying she had "with a sweep of the court's pen" substituted "value judgments" and "what the court thinks is a good idea" for the text of a federal law.

Nice to see things are starting off friendly.

However, I must admit I cheered a bit when I saw what other thing Justice Sotomayor managed to do, besides piss off Justice Thomas:

Justice Sotomayor's opinion in the case, Mohawk Industries v. Carpenter, No. 08-678, marked the first use of the term "undocumented immigrant," according to a legal database. The term "illegal immigrant" has appeared in a dozen decisions.

And with good reason. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists launched a campaign back in March 2006 asking the media to "stop using dehumanizing terms when covering immigration," explaining:

NAHJ is concerned with the increasing use of pejorative terms to describe the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States. NAHJ is particularly troubled with the growing trend of the news media to use the word "illegals" as a noun, shorthand for "illegal aliens". Using the word in this way is grammatically incorrect and crosses the line by criminalizing the person, not the action they are purported to have committed. NAHJ calls on the media to never use "illegals" in headlines.

Shortening the term in this way also stereotypes undocumented people who are in the United States as having committed a crime. Under current U.S. immigration law, being an undocumented immigrant is not a crime, it is a civil violation. Furthermore, an estimated 40 percent of all undocumented people living in the U.S. are visa overstayers, meaning they did not illegally cross the U.S. border.

In addition, the association has always denounced the use of the degrading terms "alien" and "illegal alien" to describe undocumented immigrants because it casts them as adverse, strange beings, inhuman outsiders who come to the U.S. with questionable motivations. "Aliens" is a bureaucratic term that should be avoided unless used in a quote

.

Language matters. The framing of issues matters. And it is amazing to see that Sonia Sotomayor is going to start reframing how we discuss and debate these types of issues, one pen stroke at a time.


Sotomayor Draws Retort From A Fellow Justice
[NY Times]
NAHJ Urges News Media To Stop Using Dehumanizing Terms When Covering Immigration [NAHJ]