A longtime judge who was one of the first black men on the bench around here once told me he especially wanted to work in juvenile court.
This was a surprise.
The grim job of dealing with an endless supply of kids in trouble is not generally a coveted assignment amongst the judiciary. But he said he thought it important for those kids, many of them black, to look up at the person in charge and see a face like their own, maybe even see all that was possible for someone like themselves.
How racist, right?
Oh, sorry, I was channeling Newt Gingrich there for a second.
Or at least last week's Newt Gingrich before he turned tail.
Much has been made about a comment plucked from a speech that U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor made in a 2001 lecture at the law school of the University of California at Berkeley.
Sotomayor, a federal appeals court judge who just might be our first Hispanic female justice, was referring to another judge who once said a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion deciding cases.
Sotomayor wasn't so sure.
"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life," she said.
Now, if you've never had a thought that was essentially sound but you nonetheless phrased it badly, well, lucky you. Maybe the word "better" was worth rethinking.
But how quickly they pounced!
Gingrich dubbed her a racist. Others, including Rush Limbaugh, did too, and, hey, he ought to know.
Gingrich has since backed down and said he should not have used that particular word for Sotomayor. But labeling somebody racist is one tough genie to stuff back in the bottle.
Sotomayor's comment has made for some great kerfuffling. It's not always mentioned that she also said she believes that, "we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group."
She did say "I accept there will be some (difference in my judging) based on my gender and my Latina heritage."
Isn't this the reason we elect and appoint human beings as judges rather than throwing the facts of a case into a computer and waiting for it to spit out a ruling?
Of course we want smart, learned people with time-earned wisdom and knowledge of the law, but also with life experiences and a history of personal decisions, people who have lived in the world and bring the richness of all that to the bench.
Yes, impartiality is key.
But so is humanity.
Her speech emphasized the importance of courts that reflect the people who make up America. In that all but four of the 110 Supreme Court justices have been white guys, there's little danger that group has been underrepresented.
The rest? You be the judge.
Her speech was about race, gender and the state of the justice system and the country, what separates us and what binds us and where we need to go from here.
They say racist?
I say worth talking about.