Judge Sonia Sotomayor has had a lot of people talking since President Barack Obama nominated her on May 26 for the Supreme Court. After all, if she is confirmed, Sotomayor will be the first Hispanic to sit on the highest court in the land — undoubtedly a milestone for the Latino community. Moreover, her life story of growing up in a Bronx housing project with a single mother, then going on to Princeton and Yale Law before becoming a judge is an inspiration. But despite her impressive story and obvious qualifications, her nomination has spurred an egregious reaction from the Right.

A handful of conservative politicians and commentators have accused Sotomayor of racism, pointing to a speech she gave in 2001 at the University of California-Berkeley Law School. In it, she said: “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,” as reported by the New York Times.

For these remarks, Rush Limbaugh called her a “reverse racist” on his radio program within hours of her nomination. Soon after, Newt Gingrich, former Republican Speaker of the House and prolific Twitterer, wrote, “(Sotomayor’s) new racism is no better than old racism,” on his Twitter page. Other conservative leaders followed suit in the past week.

But in that speech, Sotomayor was simply saying that her experiences on the periphery of the white mainstream have contributed to her wisdom such that she could make more informed judicial decisions than someone who had only seen good times. In this sense, she’s absolutely right. In order for someone to see the big picture, it’s sometimes important to have faced adversity.

Conservatives know that, too. They just needed something incriminating with which to attack her as Obama’s nominee. And given her outstanding record, this was the best they could come up with.

Furthermore, Sotomayor prefaced the sentence with the phrase, “I would hope that.” In so doing, she didn’t exactly assert the categorical superiority of Latinas over white men. Rather, she expressed that she was optimistic that her unique experiences mean something significant. Her statement merely underlines deep pride in her race and gender, and I’m glad that Sotomayor chose to be candid rather than diplomatic. In that way, she stepped away from the sort of politics that too often get in the way of judging objectively.

Apart from the racism debate that ballooned out of proportion this past week, there is one main criticism of Sotomayor: she is perceived to be an activist judge. Critics worry that she will choose to rule in favor of liberal politics, rather than constitutionality. This is a reasonable concern for any Court nominee — under normal circumstances. But Sotomayor’s center-left ideology is exactly what the Court needs to balance out the enormously conservative activists already on the bench.

Just as the nation saw fit to move away from warmongering ideologues in the White House and legislature during the last election, it is important that Americans get someone fresh and progressive on the Supreme Court. The last two appointees to the court—John Roberts and Samuel Alito, nominated by George W. Bush—exemplify everything for which the Bush administration stood. They are hawkish, intransigent conservatives, vehemently opposed to abortion, gay rights and whatever they perceive to be “big government.”

The time has come for someone to balance out the extreme right on the Court, and Sonia Sotomayor will aptly restore ideological stability. She understands the importance of progressivism as the conservatives on the bench do not, and she will bring much-needed freshness to the bench. Given that she is the most exciting and diverse nominee in years, the Senate should confirm her nomination.

Matthew Green can be reached at greenmat@umich.edu.

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