Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Supreme Sonia?

President Obama has nominated Sonia Sotomayor as the next Supreme Court justice. It sounds like the confirmation hearings might not be the same kind of circus they've sometimes turned into in the past: "even Republicans said they have little hope of blocking confirmation barring unforeseen revelation."

The Times article noting the nomination does include this paragraph:
Judge Sotomayor has said her ethnicity and gender are important factors in serving on the bench, a point that could generate debate. “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,” she said in a 2002 lecture.
Interesting. At first, I was taken aback by that -- if she means that as an absolute rule, it sounds a lot like reverse idiocy. But it's 32 words from her life, plucked out of the context of a larger lecture -- and possibly a question asked at that lecture about a specific situation. In any case, Sotomayor grew up in the Bronx projects, so her nomination should at least, as a narrative, please those who argue that America still has unique mobility opportunities.



Blogger Miles Doyle said...

this gets to the heart of why obama nominated her:

"Quoting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mr. Obama said, 'The life of the law has not been logic, it has been experience.' It is vitally important that a justice know 'how the world works, and how ordinary people live,' the president said."

i think this also speaks directly to Sotomayor's 2002 point, at least to a certain degree. also, she's remarkably qualified.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reverse idiocy? I'd rethink that assessment. You can say that you think it's questionable to state that your minority status makes you a little more qualified to make rulings that affect this country's citizenry, but you might not want to call a woman who went to Princeton, Yale, and has the most trial judge experience now out of anyone on on this court an idiot. Taken out of context and put into the context of the last eight years, where white men made a lot of ruinous decisions without much empathy for anyone out of their tax bracket or outside of their neo-con cult, her statement makes all the sense in the world.

I agree with Miles re: the Holmes quote.

2:22 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

I didn't call her an idiot, and wouldn't. From all I can tell, she's qualified, and I've even read things (after very brief research) that imply she's worked well with conservatives. I was calling that statement, by itself, reverse idiocy, and I'd stand by that -- out of context. Like I said, the tone of the quote makes it pretty clear to me that there's a lot of missing information. Might that information make the statement more comprehensible? Of course. I think it's stupid of the Times to print it excerpted that way. Do I think Sotomayor is a bigot? Hardly. But if you made the statement that white males are inherently better able to reach decisions than Hispanic women, I think the idiocy would be pretty clear. Therefore, this is "reverse idiocy."

Also, it's not the subtlest thing to blame the last eight years on "white men." Last I checked, Condi Rice was an African-American woman, and pretty thoroughly involved. And let's remember your feelings about Ms. Thatcher. Basically, saying "(color) (gender) anything" is generally not a thought-out move.

Now, to the point both of you make, is experience vitally important along with logic? Yes, I think it is. And I like the idea of a woman from the projects making it to the Supreme Court and bringing some of that experience to it. But there's a lot of logic involved, too, and a lot of law that doesn't directly involve empathy for the disadvantaged. Sotomayor seems to have that logic. Great. One sentence she spoke in 2002 gave me pause (about that sentence); that's all.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Saxo Philologus said...

The quote from Holmes was made before he became a judge and is a descriptive, rather than prescriptive account, of the development of the law. Much more importantly, he is describing the development of the common law, not the criteria by which to judge the constitutionality of statue law, which is what the Supreme Court does.

If going to Princeton and Yale is a guarantee of superior intelligence then I would like all of the critics of George Bush's intelligence (not to mention Clarence Thomas') to apologize. Her class rank might mean something; is it available?

Sotomayor seems to be a perfectly competent appeals court judge (though judging from the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, one notably lacking in judicial temperament) - but an unremarkable one. The appointment may end up being a boon for conservatives. Diane Wood or Harold Koh might have exercised a powerful influence on Kennedy (the vote that matters these days), but I have a suspicion that Sotomayor might drive him to side with the right a bit more often. Just a bit of speculation.

6:45 PM  
Blogger JMW said...

I believe she finished second in her class at Princeton. I don't know about her placement at Yale Law, but she did edit the Review there.

8:28 PM  

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