Justice Sonia Sotomayor: 3 Ways She Can Help Minorities From the Bench

While the election of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was appointed as the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 2009, was a great symbolic victory for minorities aspiring to higher office, the battle for racial equality and social justice is not over. However, the U.S may be witnessing a discourse around religion, race and politics — which is unprecedented since the Civil Rights movement. In this moment of shift, I believe that leaders like Sotomayor can not only set an example for minority youth and inspire them but also work to build a bulwark against some of the structural racial injustices in our system. Here's three ways, she can help minorities from the Supreme Court:

1. Uphold constitutional liberties and also defend against racism: While every representative of the government is expected to uphold the Constitution, it does help if there are minorities who are able to bring another perspective to the table. In this case, Sotomayor seems to bring a strong sense of justice and sensibility and sensitivity to issues of justice and racial equality.

2. Inspire minority youth: While not part of her official mandate, by default she has become a symbol of minority empowerment, being of Hispanic origin and coming from a middle class family. It is widely acknowledged among educators that role models play a big role in inspiring youth to behave and live in ways that uphold moral values, focus on education and aspire for the best in life. This is especially true for many minority youth, who often lag in education (in terms of achievement) on an average.

3. Challenge discourses around minorities, crime: In a brief about a criminal case that brought up issues related to racism, crime and the minorities Justice Sotomayor said, "by suggesting that race should play a role in establish­ing a defendant's criminal intent, the prosecutor here tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our Nation. There was a time when appeals to race were not uncom­mon, when a prosecutor might direct a jury to "consider the fact that Mary Sue Rowe is a young white woman and that this defendant is a black man for the purpose of determining his intent at the time he entered Mrs. Rowe's home," Holland v. State, 247 Ala. 53, 22 So. 2d 519, 520 (1945).

At the same time, it is good to remind ourselves that identity politics can be dangerous. It is key to remember that race identity plays a part in determining how some people are treated, despite constitutional guarantees. The "post-racial America," that President Obama called for in 2004, in the words, "there's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America," ring true, even today.

It is also true that violence, injustice, bigotry are not one-way affairs, and often these problems do not have racial or ethnic lines.

Despite these challenges, I believe that leaders who come from a minority community have a symbolic as well as practical role. And it is in this symbolism that can be used effectively in tackling social justice issues.

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Sabith Khan

Sabith Khan is a social entrepreneur, researcher and founder of MENASA, a think-tank and policy shop engaged in issues related to MENA and South Asia. Sabith has worked for several years in the field of strategic communications, public affairs and nonprofit management, trying to understand and communicate issues pertaining to civil society, development and youth in the US and MENA region. Sabith has worked with several large global public affairs firms, on award-winning campaigns in healthcare, entertainment and government relations. During his stint at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, he ideated and executed a global award-winning campaign for Apollo Hospitals (Abby and Clio Awards). He has also worked in the Middle East managing accounts as diverse as Dubai Film Festival, Mohammed bin Rashid Foundation, Dubai International Film Festival, Dubai School of Government. Most recently, he served as the Executive Director of Muslim Public Service Network in Washington D.C, an NGO that engages and inspires young American Muslims to do public service. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Planning Governance and Globalization at Virginia Tech. He has been involved as a team member and leader in several international development projects including consulting for the Near East Foundation, in helping set up their Monitoring and Evaluation system for their offices across the MENA region. Sabith has a Master of Public administration and a Master of Arts in International Relations from the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. In Summer 2013, he conducted research on American Muslim philanthropy at the Lilly School of Philanthropy, Indianapolis, in an attempt to map giving behavior among Muslims over the last ten years i.e., 2002- 2012. Sabith’s research interests include Religion and Philanthropy, Youth issues in USA, Middle East North Africa and South Asia, Governance and Civil Society. Sabith is also the co-editor of Millennials Speak: Essays on the 21st century, a snapshot of the ideas and opinions of the global Millennial Generation. Twenty writers from five continents, a diverse mix of young academics, policy professionals, and future thought and creative leaders, cover topics from the legacy of the Arab Spring, the global food system, the U.S. student loan crisis, youth unemployment, to popular culture. Currently working: Founder and Executive Director, MENASA Publications: 1. Humanitarian Aid and Faith-Based Giving: The Potential of Muslim Charity - Unrest Magazine, George Mason University. May 2013. Accessible at http://www.unrestmag.com/about-unrest/past-issues/#sthash.GEqNfv0U.dpuf 2. Arab American Diaspora and American Muslim Philanthropy: impact of crisis situations on mobilization and formation of a “community.” American University in Cairo Press. Cairo. (NP). Expected Fall 2013. 3. Middle-East Peace Talks 2010: Investigating the Role of Lobbying and Advocacy Groups in Washington, D.C. as Spoilers. Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Spring 2011. Accessible at : http://www.maxwell.syr.edu/parcc/Research/intrastate/Spoilers_of_Peace_Project/ Blog: www.sabithkhan.wordpress.com

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