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.