Tuesday, June 16, 2009

UC Davis Prof: Absence of rural voice on Supreme Court does matter

In a story published Monday in the Center For Rural Strategies' Daily Yonder, I wrote about the lack of any significant rural connections in the biographies of the likely next U.S. Supreme Court, one that would appear to replace Justice David Souter and his rural New Hampshire background with Judge Sonia Sotomayor from the Bronx, N.Y.

Lisa Pruitt, a University of California Davis School of Law professor
who contributes to the Web log Legal Ruralism, picked up the story on the Internet and added expertise to my pedestrian instincts. Among Pruitt’s specialties is an area she calls law and rural livelihoods.

“Some judges are clearly more sensitive to rural realities than others, and this sensitivity influences their decision making,” Pruitt writes on the Web log. “Whether this sensitivity is due to those judges’ rural upbringings or other rural exposure, I cannot say. But rural difference from what has become an implicit urban norm is often legally relevant — as I’ve often argued in my scholarship.

“I have no doubt that we need judges (and justices!) who have a capacity to recognize that, judges who — at a minimum — are open to learning about rural realities when presented with them.”

In theory, judges born in Trenton, N.J, — such as Supreme Court justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia — should be able to apply the law and follow the Constitution in cases that pit urban interests against rural.

That said, I’d agree with U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who while supporting Sotomayor, is urging President Obama to make his next Supreme Court appointment with consideration given to candidates outside the Ivy League, maybe even someone who went to night law school in a heavily rural state.

Hopefully, Professor Pruitt and others involved with scholarship at the intersection of rural life and law will follow our urban-dominated Court to see if any decisions show bias to-ward their collective citified biographies.

If Hispanics are cheering probable newfound representation with Sotomayor on the Court shouldn’t rural Americans be troubled (if not outraged) at the absence of anyone with our geo-graphic orientation?

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