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It was Sidney Poitier. Back in the corner of the rather elegant Beverly Wilshire dining room. Like my two friends and I, he was enjoying a mid-morning breakfast with a gentleman friend of his own.
I’ve long considered myself Sidney’s friend, and I hope he feels the same, though our meetings through the years have always been brief but warm and very cordial. I admire him greatly, and I’m sure he’s felt that.
We acknowledged each other from across the room, but it wasn’t till he was leaving and was passing our table that I spoke. “Hello, Saint Sidney!” He grinned broadly, with a quizzical expression that suggested he was not sure what I meant. So I told him.
“Sidney, of all the people I’ve known in this crazy business, this neurotic, frantic town – you are without question loved and respected, if not actually revered, by virtually everybody. You do only good things, and you do ’em superlatively. I consider you a saint.”
Of course, he modestly shrugged it off, but I doubt anybody would challenge me. Even without the Academy and other awards and nominations, Sidney Poitier ranks with the finest actors America has ever produced.
Michael Jackson, having just shed this mortal coil, will always rank with the very finest entertainers in the whole world. Only a relative few, like Sammy Davis Jr., Al Jolson, Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, Will Rogers and one or two others, will ever attain the worldwide popularity of Michael Jackson.
Lena Horne, Mariah Carey, Pearl Bailey, Whitney Houston, Halle Berry and billionaire Oprah have also climbed heights in their professions rarely equaled by any others, regardless of race or color.
Latina singers and actresses like Carmen Miranda, Rita Moreno, Jennifer Lopez and Salma Hayek – and their Latino brethren like Ricardo Montalban, Cesar Romero and Rudolph Valentino – all have become unforgettable stars. Of course, “Satchmo” Louie Armstrong, Bill Cosby, B.B. King, Jamie Fox, Freddy Prinz, Morgan Freeman, Desi Arnaz, Samuel Jackson, Denzel Washington, Ethel Waters – you can surely name a lot of others – have proven that hard work, dedication, personality and sheer talent can accomplish almost anything.
In sports? The names Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Joe Louis, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, Jim Brown, Arthur Ashe, Pele, Poncho Gonzalez, Roberto Clemente, Oscar de la Hoya, Venus and Serena Williams, and so many others black and Hispanic, all prove there are no limits to skill and drive. The great Jesse Owens left Hitler’s notions of racial superiority on the dusty track of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
Politics? Business? Do names like Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, Michael Steele, Ward Connerly, or Barack Obama ring a bell? How about Berry Gordy, Robert Johnson, or Reginald F. Lewis?
Going back a little further, George Washington Carver, Thurgood Marshall, Booker T Washington and certainly Martin Luther King make emphatic statements about the opportunities America has afforded to superior intellects and talents in almost every imaginable field of endeavor.
But now comes President Obama’s first nominee for the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. American by birth, Hispanic by culture and pride, she’s had quite a record of education and ascent in her profession – law and the courts. Like every one of the estimable names above, she worked hard and rose through the ranks to surpass the majority of her peers in accomplishment and position.
The president chose carefully a woman, a Latina, an experienced justice and a liberal like himself. All this to be expected. And, with both houses of Congress controlled by his own party, he probably anticipated no real problem in seeing her confirmation – and in changing the direction of the Supreme Court.
But as the appropriate members of Congress began looking into her record of statements and decisions, it became apparent that the lady brought to her position strong and troubling attitudes about the Constitution and how courts should interpret it.
Thomas Jefferson warned in 1804 that “the opinion which gives to the judges the right to decide what laws are constitutional, and what not, not only for themselves in their own sphere of action, but for the legislature and executive also, in their spheres, would make the judiciary a despotic branch.”
Jefferson’s warning applies only too clearly to Judge Sotomayor’s open declaration, “I further accept that our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions. The aspiration to impartiality is just that – it’s an <>aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others … our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging.”
What she is clearly saying is that the Constitution cannot, in her opinion, mean just what it says, and apply to all citizens equally. She feels she has the right, perhaps the obligation, to apply – and thereby make – law based on her experience, insights and preferences! And she actually said, “Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
In other words, but accurately, her race, sex and personal experience make her better equipped to make law and apply justice than the Constitution itself, which says the same to all, regardless of those distinctions. And following that line of reasoning, other judges who follow will bring their own experiences and racial differences to bear on their decisions – until the Constitution becomes completely irrelevant. In time, all that will matter is what the current crop of judges feel is just and right.
Well, the current Supreme Court, to which Ms. Sotomayor aspires, just overturned her ruling in the New Haven racial-preference case, in which she applied her female Latina “experience” and gave preference to black firemen over the better qualified white and Latin candidates for promotion. The justices chose equality and competence over “affirmative action.”
What I love about all the achievers mentioned above, the blacks and Latinos, the males and females, in all their fields of endeavors, is that they depended on no extra privilege, no “racial quota”; in this America they became eminently successful because of their individual talent, their diligence and dedication. In short, “they earned it.”
They proved Jefferson’s declaration that “all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator”; that Declaration and the Constitution which followed it worked for them – and it will work for all, if liberal judges will let it, and not try to twist it according to their own “experiences.”