Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Pros and Cons of the SCOTUS Pick

The news of Barack Obama's choice of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court has set off a slew of opinions about his choice.

Glenn Greenwald/Salon - Obama's choice of Sotomayor deserves praise
This nomination should be judged principally on two grounds: (1) her judicial opinions (which Scotusblog's Tom Goldstein comprehensively reviews here) and (2) her answers at her confirmation hearing. But based on everything that is known now, this seems to be a superb pick for Obama.

His choice of Sotomayor is a prime example of his doing exactly that, and for that reason alone, ought to be commended.

John Nichols/The Nation - Obama's Pick, Sonia Sotomayor, Reflects America

Sotomayor was not the most liberal of the prospective jurists, but that did not matter to conservatives who have been preparing for a fight. Wendy Long, counsel to the right's Judicial Confirmation Network, came out swinging: "Judge Sotomayor is a liberal judicial activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written. She thinks that judges should dictate policy, and that one's sex, race, and ethnicity ought to affect the decisions one renders from the bench."

That's a reference to a case involving applications for promotions within the New Haven, Connecticut fire department, in which Sotomayor was a member of a judicial panel that objected to tests used to evaluate candidates for promotion when no minority candidates ranked at the top of the list of those who took the test.

That white male jurists agreed with Sotomayor will be lost on her critics. But her record is generally seen as being very much in the mainstream of legal debates about diversity and affirmative action.

The swift strike at this nominee provides a reminder of how important this confirmation battle will be to conservatives, who see the fight to block Obama's first high-court pick as essential to the renewal of their sagging political fortunes.

Via Think Progress: Jeffrey Rosen allowed unnamed sources to attack Sotomayor as “not that smart” and lacking “penetrating” questions on the bench.

Via Crooks and Liars: Media Matters did a roundup of the Sotomayor attacks a few weeks back, including the hit job done by a New Republic writer:

Despite the glaring flaws, Rosen's assessment of Sotomayor was widely adopted by other media figures.

Mark Halperin, Time's conventional-wisdom maven, announced "Jeff Rosen Raises Warning Flags on Sotomayor" and described "Jeff" Rosen as "the New Republic's legal eagle." (What of Rosen's thin sourcing and dishonest quoting? Who cares! It's Jeff! He's a legal eagle!) The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder touted Rosen's piece as a reflection of "the respectable intellectual center." (Ambinder's colleague, Ta-Nehisi Coates responded: "You don't get to be the 'respectable intellectual center' and then practice your craft in the gossip-laden, ignorant muck. Not for long anyway.")

If the "respectable intellectual center" approached the prospect of a Sotomayor nomination by doctoring quotes in order to trash her intelligence, you might wonder what the disreputable fringe did. Well, National Review's John Derbyshire and Mark Hemmingway described her as "dumb and obnoxious," but they weren't really moving the ball forward in the anti-Sotomayor campaign; they were just interpreting Rosen's work.

Fox News' Andrew Napolitano told listeners on his radio show that Sotomayor "has a reputation for not being a very hard worker" -- like Rosen, citing anonymous law clerks to back up the claim.

Even David Letterman got in on the act. Here's Bob Somerby, describing Letterman's Sotomayor sketch:

Letterman's clip was openly racial/ethnic, a throwback to what once seemed to be an earlier day. With it, he gave viewers a throwback first impression of a sweaty, crazy, yelling jurist -- of a woman who graduated summa cum laude from Princeton in her real life, among other acts of distinction. But this astounding bad judgment by Big Humor Dave followed an act of grotesque judgment by the New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen. Rosen authored a gruesome post built on anonymous sources which -- let's be honest -- openly trafficked in racial stereotypes.

Dumb. Lazy. Temperamental. It's enough to make you wonder how she made it from the South Bronx to Princeton, Yale, and a federal judgeship. And remember: She didn't get there the George W. Bush way. You know many lazy, stupid people who win Princeton's highest academic prize?

Worst of all, there's no reason to think that the treatment Sonia Sotomayor received from the media over the past week will stop with her. The coverage of Sotomayor has clearly been built at least in part on gender and racial stereotypes, so we can probably expect similar coverage of other women and minorities who are mentioned as possible nominees.

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