Paul Helmke's Notes on Sotomayor and Guns

| by Brady Campaign
By Paul Helmke, Brady Campaign President

Un-Wise Analysis

Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor has drawn criticism for saying in an October 2001 speech, "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."

I wonder why so little of the analysis of that statement has been on the crucial word "wise"?

For example, during Sunday morning's talk shows, Bob Scheiffer didn't include the word "wise" when delivering this quote to his guests on Face the Nation. David Gregory's summary of the quote when discussing it with Brian Williams late in the broadcast of Meet the Press dropped the word, too.

Yet it is hard to disagree with a statement that a "wise person" would "more often than not" reach "better" conclusions than just a regular person would. If this is true, isn't it logical that a "wise" person of one sex or ethnicity would decide better than just a regular person of the opposite sex or another ethnic group? It would thus follow that "a wise Latina woman" would be likely to reach a "better" conclusion than just a regular "white male."

Maybe the logic of being "wise" leading "more often than not" to "better" choices is so obvious that it's been ignored in this debate. Yet perhaps Judge Sotomayor is pointing out what many have believed, in the past, if not still, that just a regular white male would reach "better" decisions than a "wise" person of a different race or gender.

Yale Law School in the '70s

While there have been stories on how Judge Sotomayor, if approved, would be the sixth Roman Catholic currently on the Supreme Court, I haven't seen anyone note that she would be the third Yale Law School grad (Class of 1979) from the same decade, joining Clarence Thomas (1974) and Samuel Alito (1975).

Furthermore, when you factor in my classmates from Yale Law 1973, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Bill Clinton, and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, as well as White House Counsel Greg Craig (Yale Law 1972), it's clear that there were a lot of bright, ideologically diverse people at Yale Law School as students during that decade.

Second Amendment

Some have been attacking Judge Sotomayor for her decisions on gun rights, but as I point out in my statement released today, she has just followed precedent.

Until last year, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt with the Second Amendment as something tied to a "well regulated militia" and not as an individual right. Given that long-standing interpretation, it's not surprising that the Supreme Court had not "incorporated" the yet-to-be-discovered individual right to have a gun in the home for self-defense to the states prior to the June 26, 2008 Heller decision.

Furthermore, since Heller dealt with the District of Columbia (a federal enclave), that decision did not have to deal with the issue of state incorporation.

In coming months and years, the Supreme Court will have to deal with that issue, as well as the application to specific laws of Justice Scalia's long list of gun restrictions, which he indicated were "presumptively lawful." These restrictions include limits on who can get guns, where they can be taken, how they are sold, how they are stored, and what kinds of guns they are.

Judge Sotomayor's respect for precedent, as well as her real world experiences as a prosecutor, give me hope that she will understand the need for responsibilities as well as rights when it comes to evaluating gun laws.


There will be a robust debate over Judge Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court in the weeks and months to come. While discussion will range from the profound to the trivial, I hope that the process will proceed with the level of respect and decorum toward Judge Sotomayor that she has clearly earned.