Sotomayor and the Last of the WASPS

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If Judge Sonia Sotomayor is confirmed, the U.S. Supreme Court will consist of six Catholics, two Jews and precisely one white Anglo-Saxon Protestant in the form of Justice John Paul Stevens, who is 89 years old and boasts of two important WASP insignia: inherited wealth and a bow tie. He also thinks that Shakespeare’s plays were written by the Earl of Oxford. But then, so does Antonin Scalia. The other WASP among the nine, until he announced his retirement—thus paving the way for Sotomayor’s nomination—is David Souter. The two WASPS have been the most liberal members of the court.

There were desultory calls for President Obama to preserve the WASP quotient on the court by picking another white Protestant, but Sotomayor fulfilled other, more pressing quota requirements, being a woman and of Puerto Rican ancestry—prospectively making her the first Hispanic member of the court (unless you count Benjamin Cardozo, a Sephardic Jew of Portuguese ancestral background), thus delighting America’s fastest growing ethnic group. Hispanics are the great brown hope of the Democratic Party and the real estate industry (more or less coterminous), since they represent 14 percent of the population but 25 percent of the live births, thus responsible for the fact that the United States is the only Western industrialized nation with a fertility rate above the 2.2 percent replacement rate.

Since WASPs are allegedly busy running America from their clubland bastions in Manhattan and the Skull and Bones premises, they haven’t had time for procreative duties and scant opportunity either, since their leathery spouses spend their evenings going to charity balls and their weekends in the Hudson Valley or outside Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., pruning their roses. The WASP replacement rate is abysmal and their traditional claim of being America’s ruling class is under relentless pressure from Jews, whom all WASPs, after a couple of dry martinis, invoke as running not just America but the entire world. So these days, WASPs sit resignedly in their libraries reading histories of WASP clans like the Whitneys, the Rockefellers and the Harrimans, or watching reruns of CIA movies—the last genre dedicated to the thesis that ruthless white upper class Protestants run America.

Actually the WASPs fought their decisive battle for power early in the last century, when they realized that the streams of immigrants pouring into the New World from Czarist Russia or Catholic countries like Italy and Ireland would in the not-so-long term alter the nation’s ethnic balance and challenge their supremacy. WASPs fought back with the program of population management known as the Eugenics Movement, eloquently defined by a great WASP hero, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Homes, who declared in a famous court ruling in 1928 that “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind … Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Starting around 1910, state after state adopted sterilization laws targeting the non-WASP ethnic strains. Other legislation sought to beat back genetic attrition. The 1924 Racial Integrity Act of Virginia rendered it illegal for blacks and whites to marry and reproduce. By the end of the 1920s, 39 states had adopted legislation prohibiting the marriage of “feebleminded” people. There was a building boom in institutions designed to house the insane and “feebleminded” around the country. The Minnesota Institute for Defectives had the responsibility “to keep the persons entrusted to our care until they are past the reproducing age.” Between 1880 and 1929, on one historical account, WASP eugenicists were able to increase the number of unfit imprisoned in asylums four-fold: from 31,973 to 272,527 people. Hitler and his associates followed the WASPs’ diligent efforts at ethnic cleansing with keen attention and delightedly studied the statutes WASPs rammed through Congress, most notably the Immigration Act of 1924, which effectively barred immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. Ironically, the Immigration Act spurred settlement in Palestine, which most Jewish emigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe had previously spurned in favor of the United States, thus blazing the path that has led to AIPAC and Avigdor Lieberman.

In 1927, the United States became the first eugenic nation when the Supreme Court upheld the decision to sterilize the unfit in Buck v. Bell by an 8-1 majority. The composition of the Court at this high point in the WASP counter-attack was as follows: Episcopalians: George Sutherland (Vt.); Edward T. Sanford (Tenn.); Harlan Stone (N.Y.); Willis Van Devanter, (Wyo.). Unitarians: Chief Justice William H. Taft (Conn.); Oliver Wendell Holmes (Mass.), who wrote the majority opinion, quoted above. Mainline Protestant (Disciples of Christ): James McReynolds (Tenn.), a fervent anti-Semite who refused to speak to his fellow Justice Louis Brandeis, for three years. Jewish: Louis Brandeis (Mass.). Catholic: Pierce Butler (Minn.), the sole dissenting vote.

The WASP struggle for continued supremacy crested legislatively in the 1920s, even though compulsory sterilization continued for many decades. Now 80 years later, we have just one lonely WASP, Stevens.

The right is trying to claim that Sotomayor is a reverse racist, but this, like almost everything the right says these days, is not gaining any traction with the general population, though CNN is giving it relentless play. What the right can’t do is claim that Sotomayor is any sort of radical. She’s not. Her decisions have generally been pro-business and she owes her career on the federal bench to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who nominated her to the Appeals Court. Moynihan was of Irish descent, but he famously adhered to the WASP belief that an inherent “pathology” disfigured the black family in America.

WASP dominance is on the way out—but their social priorities are safe in the hands of the Catholics and Jews on the Court, and when it comes to the class war, Ms. Sotomayor is no boat-rocker, any more than the president who has nominated her.

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