Lessons from the Sotomayor Hearings

Confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor begin today. The event marks an historic chapter in the annals of our country and Hispanic community. I’ll sidestep the “D.C. political” aspects of the event and focus on the cultural and gender factors raised by her nomination. Generally, research across many fields (including my own doctoral studies) suggest that the demographic composition of a team or organization can impact its decision making process. Why would the Supreme Court be any different?

During the University of Michigan admission issue a few years ago, you might be surprised to know that seventy of the Fortune 500 organizations filed briefings in favor of UM’s admission process to consider an applicant’s race. Why? Companies realize that diversity within an organization not only has a bottom-line effect but intangible ones as well. Sotomayor’s possible addition to the court brings forward the fundamental idea of diversity initiatives: the idea that diverse teams are distinct from ones that are homogeneous.

Without a doubt, Sotomayor’s background and unique perspective will impact the Supreme Court’s discussions and the way other members of the court view a particular case. It is hard to imagine that her perspectives on gender, race, religious, or other social issues won’t reshape the Court. I would argue that adding Sonia Sotomayor to the Court will certainly impact its dynamics. Certainly, her female and Hispanic perspective will have an effect. But more importantly, adding a diverse voice to the Court will force its other members to consider and analyze cases before them differently.

Within any organization, it’s not only the individuals of the minority group who are impacted by diversity – but the whole organization.