Sonia Sotomayor, a frontrunner for President Obama’s first Supreme Court appointment pick, has type 1 diabetes, and it may work against her.
Sotomayor is currently serving as a Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The fact that she could be the first diabetic (along with the first Latino) to serve on the Supreme Court is incredibly exciting for our community, of course! But there’s outcry from many that her medical condition may shorten her lifespan or lead to complications making her unfit to serve.
Suddenly, the big buzz is the question of how much scrutiny the President should give to a candidate’s health. Witness the discussion in the Huffington Post (and the snarky fallout over at DC gossip blog Wonkette).
This is BIG, Folks. This is where survivorship with chronic illness meets the glass ceiling. As I’ve said before, diabetes is chronic but not terminal — yes, we are ill, but not sick, and disadvantaged without being disabled.
For a Supreme Court justice, whose term technically has no end (though a Justice is free to retire), his or her health is now becoming part of the vetting process, in addition to judicial rulings, legal papers, financial statements, etc.
Assuming she’s otherwise well qualified, would diabetes affect this woman’s ability to be a thorough, rational and law-abiding judge? She is a graduate of Princeton and obtained her J.D. from Yale University, so clearly she’s intelligent. In 1991, she became the youngest judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and the first Hispanic federal judge in New York. In 1998, she became Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals. Clearly, she’s experienced.
It’s worth noting that in 1998, according to the New York Times, it took a year for her confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals, in part because some Republicans thought that putting her in the appeals court would enhance her chances at a Supreme Court nomination. Ten years later, it seems that dream may come true!
But then there’s the diabetes…
Does the position of Supreme Court Justice fall under the American Disabilities Act? Good question. It seems the main concern isn’t that she’ll have a low blood sugar while on the bench, but whether or not her life — and thus her term as Justice —will be cut short by an untimely death due to diabetes. Isn’t it discrimination to withhold a position from someone because they *might* someday have complications that could threaten their health?
Sotomayor would not be the first Supreme Court Justice to have health issues. Justice Thurgood Marshall retired at age 82 with a bad heart, deafness and glaucoma. Then there’s Chief Justice John Robert, who the Huffington Post says is suspected of suffering from epilepsy, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is recovering from surgery for cancer.
A potential future of serious health problems faces all of us humans, and yes, perhaps more so for us PWDs. But Sotomayor turns 55 next month, having had diabetes for more than 45 years, and she is still hard at work as a Judge. Kudos to the Huffington Post for noting that Sotomayor’s diabetes (which requires so much diligence) is “one of the more compelling aspects to an already compelling biography.” The article goes on to say: “And while hardly a debilitating disease — indeed, recent medical advancements have made it quite manageable to live with — there remain enough late-in-life health implications to have sparked debate in legal, political and medical circles.”
Dr. Paul Robertson, President of Medicine & Science at the ADA, steps in to defend, saying, “The advancements of management of type one diabetes have been just amazing over the last two decades because of the advent of insulin pumps and the ability of people to measure their glucose at home. We’re talking a whole different ball game now in terms of how well patients can do; what their longevity is like and how well they can function.”
And yet a spokeswoman from JDRF is quoted as talking about “immense complications” and the fact that “the average life expectancy for people with Type One is lowered by an average of ten years.” I do hope she was quoted out of context. I’m sure the JDRF’s intent was not to make type 1 diabetics seem unfit for public service. This concerns me a bit.
The important point here is that more and more people are living longer, healthier lives with all sorts of medical conditions — in particular type 1 diabetes — and fulfilling all their dreams. An entire book was published recently profiling people who’ve lived well for decades with diabetes.
So it’s making me kind of sick to think that diabetes may rob Sotomayor of this chance.
What do you think? Do you think President Obama should consider Sotomayor’s type 1 diabetes when making his decision? Is it reasonable, or necessary, i.e. something owed to the American public? Or not?