Sotomayor’s so-so reviews thus far

posted at 8:47 am on July 15, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Actually, so-so would be putting it kindly.  If Sonia Sotomayor was a Broadway musical, she would have closed on opening night.  The reviews have been, to put it mildly, awful — and not all from the Right, either.

First, Eva Rodriguez in the Washington Post notices that Sotomayor spent most of her time going backwards under tough questioning from Republicans, and failed to convincingly argue her case:

I’m surprised and disturbed by how many times today Sonia Sotomayor has backed off of or provided less-than-convincing explanations for some of her more controversial speeches about the role of gender and ethnicity in judicial decision-making.

Sotomayor’s most quoted comment is, “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.” Under often very effective questioning by Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, she essentially disavowed her statement. She explained that she was trying to play off of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s assertion that a wise old man and a wise old woman should be able to reach the same conclusion in a case. “My play…fell flat,” Sotomayor said in response to Session’s question. “It was bad, because it left an impression that I believed that life experiences commanded a result in a case, but that’s clearly not what I do as a judge.”

A fair reading of Sotomayor’s record on the federal trial and appellate courts clearly shows that that is not what she’s done thus far. But Sessions’ questions were aimed at understanding how she would implement this judicial philosophy if she’s confirmed to the Supreme Court, where she would be far less restrained by precedent. I found it hard to believe that Sotomayor has now come to the realization that her words left a wrong impression. After all, she delivered similar lines in roughly half a dozen speeches throughout the years. Her explanation came across as dodgy at best and disingenuous at worst.

Ilya Shapiro of Cato’s Supreme Court Review also told the LA Times that Sotomayor was not being honest in her responses:

One thing I noticed, quite clearly, was that in explaining her comment on the wise Latina, she said she was paralleling [retired Justice Sandra Day] O’Connor’s statement that a wise old man and a wise old woman would come to the same wise decision, but the wise Latina comment is 180 degrees away from what O’Connor said. O’Connor was saying that being a woman wouldn’t skew your view, whereas the wise Latina statement said that a woman would reach a better result. So saying that she was following O’Connor was a little disingenuous.

Shapiro and Rodriguez offer at least some encouraging words for Sotomayor, but the AP’s Nancy Benac pulls no punches:

It’s a good thing Sonia Sotomayor speaks Sotomayoran.

After week upon week in which plenty of other people on the planet interpreted Sotomayor’s past comments, the Supreme Court nominee at last got a chance to deconstruct her own words Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. …

She drew loopy circles on her paper; she ran rhetorical circles around her past words.

“I didn’t intend to suggest …” she explained.

“What I was speaking about …” she offered.

“As I have tried to explain …” she parsed.

“I wasn’t talking about …” she demurred.

She was a tough critic at times.

“I was using a rhetorical flourish that fell flat,” she averred.

“It was bad,” she said. Of her own words.

And most interestingly, via Ed Whelan at The Corner, comes this blast from the Left.  Michael Seidman, Georgetown law professor, said this in an on-line debate, disgusted by Sotomayor’s abandonment of the principles of identity politics:

I was completely disgusted by Judge Sotomayor’s testimony today. If she was not perjuring herself, she is intellectually unqualified to be on the Supreme Court. If she was perjuring herself, she is morally unqualified. How could someone who has been on the bench for seventeen years possibly believe that judging in hard cases involves no more than applying the law to the facts? …

Perhaps Justice Sotomayor should be excused because our official ideology about judging is so degraded that she would sacrifice a position on the Supreme Court if she told the truth. Legal academics who defend what she did today have no such excuse. They should be ashamed of themselves.

What do these bad reviews for Sotomayor mean?  It doesn’t mean she won’t get confirmed.  The White House has no intention of closing this show now and admitting defeat, and the Senate Democrats won’t let Sotomayor fail in order to protect their new President.  However, her performance adds fuel to the Republican argument that Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor not because she was the best possible candidate and not because she was a moderate, but strictly for political purposes.  None of this will affect her tenure on the Supreme Court, but it will provide further evidence that Obama has a big problem in selecting people for his administration, and that there seems to be little effort at vetting nominees for important positions.

In short, every prevarication and stumble Sotomayor makes deepens the impression that Obama is not a competent executive.  That’s the real danger for Obama in these hearings, and the tough questioning of Jeff Sessions and Lindsey Graham has made it a reality.

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Interesting piece, but the passing attack on Thomas is totally uncalled for. Thomas is a much better writer than Souter, whom she praises.

Attila (Pillage Idiot) on July 15, 2009 at 10:01 AM

Yes, I agree, but the point I was making is that even from a Leftwinger’s (and Leftwing female’s) perspective, that Sotomayor has real academic, intellectual problems. The analysis of her prose (“writings”) is scathing but I venture to say, almost certainly relatively accurate.

A lot of Leftwingers are just preset to dislike Thomas. I think that he is a relatively Conservative and Black person, seems to just fry the Left’s sensibilities so badly that they can’t perceive him any farther than “immensely threatening to my concept of reality”. (Their concept of reality, not MINE, that is.)

Lourdes on July 15, 2009 at 12:39 PM

coldwarrior on July 15, 2009 at 9:14 AM

Good point.
Most often, when you listen to conservative vs liberal in a discussion, you hear the conservative argue with reason and logic. The liberal then responds with emotional anecdotes, moral imperatives and hypothetical scenarios.
If this doesn’t work, step 2 is talking over the top incessantly, and step 3 personal attacks and ridicule.
When I try to discuss some issue with a left-leaner, using logic and common sense, it usually ends one of two ways.
1. “If that were true why don’t we hear about it more on the news?”
2. “Yeah, that’s true but everybody does it.”
End of discussion.
Bottom line – they don’t want to know.

PaddyJ on July 15, 2009 at 1:00 PM

what do you expect.

Liberals are liars.

Its not a question of is she a liar, that is established.

Its a question of which lie is the one she wants to espouse today.

Either she was lying then or she is lying now.

In any event, why is anyone surprised that the lying son of a b!tch behind the teleprompter picks liars tax cheats and criminals and thugs to staff his administration?

That’s what you do when you come from the toilet of chicago politics.

BillaryMcBush on July 15, 2009 at 1:05 PM

This dog and pony show means nothing. She’ll get confirmed even though some liberals find her logic lacking. She’ll get confirmed for EXACTLY the same reason those firefighters got ripped off.

Jeff from WI on July 15, 2009 at 1:17 PM

It doesn’t mean she won’t get confirmed.

The conventional thinking is that she will be confirmed even without the republican votes. Really? She does not belong on the supreme court. She has neither the intellect or temperment and it is likely she is a bigot. The republicans should stand together and vote no. Let’s see what all those blue dog democrats with good American, blue coller constituents who are being told they aren’t as wise as a puerto rican woman will do when they get wind of the fact no republicans are going to vote for her. When will “what is best for America” come into the republican mindset instead of “how can I walk the fence”?

By the way, conventional wisdom is what the washington elite must do to pull the wool over the eyes of us great unwashed and maintain their control over us.

peacenprosperity on July 15, 2009 at 1:26 PM

The more she talks, the dumber she sounds. Yea; We really need to dumb down the Supreme Court.

Cybergeezer on July 15, 2009 at 1:47 PM

Another sparkling Obama choice that should not be permitted to have a security clearance!

Cybergeezer on July 15, 2009 at 1:49 PM

The more she talks, the dumber she sounds. Yea; We really need to dumb down the Supreme Court.

Cybergeezer on July 15, 2009 at 1:47 PM

It already hit rock bottom dumb when Roberts was made Chief and nerd-alert Alito was added.

dcwvu on July 15, 2009 at 2:12 PM

American Power tracked back with, “SCOTUS Hearings: Sotomayor Backs Off on Empathy; Experts Allege Weak Grasp of Law, GOP Thinks She’s Lying!”:

Donald Douglas on July 15, 2009 at 2:18 PM

However, her performance adds fuel to the Republican argument that Barack Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor not because she was the best possible candidate and not because she was a moderate, but strictly for political purposes.

It also adds fuel to the Republican argument that more Republican Senators are needed to block future “legislators from the bench”, especially if they are nominated to replace a conservative Justice.

Steve Z on July 15, 2009 at 3:22 PM