Bigot. Racist. Unqualified. Activist. Empathetic. Pure evil was about the only attack left unsaid.
There has been an avalanche of accusations and characterizations directed at Sonia Sotomayor since her appointment to the Supreme Court by President Obama. To the extent that Americans are touchy about the topic of law and the court system, the reaction is understandable. We love to hate lawyers in this country, and yet we do nothing to limit the amount or reach of the profession. We hate lawsuits until we perceive an opportunity to file one beneficial to us. We love the idea of justice, so long as it is favorable to whatever cause we favor. Contradiction breeds strife and raw nerves, and this confirmation battle is trampling on the raw nerves of people left, right, and center.
The rational middle wants to know; what are the facts behind this choice, and is there anything worrisome in her selection? I will go through the major points of contention and make a case for a more reasoned debate. I hope you will join me in this debate in the comments.
- Impartiality– “I would like to believe that a wise Latina…..” We have all read this quote at some time in the last few months. As a white male, I admit to being struck by it when I first read the quote. The important question when reading or listening to the news nowadays is, “Is the quote paraphrased, is it representative of the speaker or writer who gave it voice, and what are the motivations of those who published it?” Yes, the quote is lifted out of context from a very long (and boring) speech given by the judge at Berkeley. In the 2 paragraph section that contained the quote, the judge was speaking about the fundamental weaknesses of humans and their capacity to fairly judge. She referenced what she would like to believe about herself, then went on to say that fundamental impartiality required that any judge attempt to daily set aside personal prejudice and assess the case on its merits. Please read the entire speech for clarification, and judge for yourself.
- Political Leanings- The American Bar Association has rated her as a legal neutral, meaning that she has been a down the middle judge over her very long career. Her judgements are, in fact, unexciting and (mostly) non-controversial. She has resisted the urge throughout her career to make sweeping judgements, and has established a record of methodical, case by case rulings. First nominated to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush, her most noteworthy ruling prior to the infamous fire fighter’s case was when she ruled with the Bush Administration on an abortion case; an issue that has Pro-Choice people up in arms about her selection.
- Qualifications– Her academic record is exemplary, and typifies a fast-track lawyer’s school career. Her professional career prior to being a judge is solid; a start prosecuting child-molesters in New York followed by a solid civil practise. She also has more experience on the federal bench than any appointee in recent memory. Her record as an appellate judge is still above the norm concerning the number of cases successfully appealed over her head (even after the New Haven case). I can see attacking an appointee on cases and personal comments, but the attempts by some conservative talking heads (namely Limbaugh and Hannity) to label Sotomayor as “incompetent” are just silly.
- Judicial Activism- A flashpoint issue for conservatives who are upset about gay rights and other social issues where judges and courts have overturned civil law passed by popular demand, “activist judge” is a label preselected by Obama opponents for any appointee. His suggestion that a judge needs compassion and understanding along with a grasp of the law was seized on as a shot fired in the culture war, and Judge Sotomayor has been caught in the crossfire. The irony here is the New Haven fire fighter’s case. The city took the extraordinarily foolish step of throwing out test results because no African-Americans had passed the test for management. The first stage of the irony are the plaintiffs in the case: one of them was a Hispanic male. The contention then, is that Sotomayor is a reverse racist who ruled against…another Hispanic? The second stage involves the decision itself. The three judge panel was unanimous in ruling that the lower court had formulated a fair judgement; in essence, they refused to take the position of judicial activism. In the end, the more conservative Supreme Court played activist and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and against the city. That most would agree with the decision is just off the point; we have not been talking about popularity but justice, and Sotomayor ruled with two other judges on the merits of a single case over personal feelings.
The record of this judge is a long one, and all of it is available on any number of websites in the public domain. The rational middle would hope that all would take the time to look at the record, listen to and read the full context of the judge’s more controversial statements, and evaluate for themselves her place on or off the court. The basic plea of this post is; ignore that chattering class in the media and politics, and do the research yourself. Is she evil or just wrong for the job? Is she a hero or just the right selection for the post?
Looking forward to every one’s thoughts…..