The Case for Sotomayor
I was not planning to say anything about the candidates to replace Justice Souter. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to do so after reading Jeffrey Rosen’s piece in the New Republic entitled “The Case Against Sotomayor.” (I’m sorry I can’t link to it here, but my home computer won’t allow me to do that for some reason.) Rosen’s negative characterization of the Judge, which is based on conversations with various unnamed lawyers, is inaccurate.
I have known the Judge for thirteen years. After my first year in law school, I was an intern in her chambers when she was a District Court judge. A few years after that, I was a clerk on the Second Circuit, where my judge sat with Judge Sotomayor on many panels and I observed oral arguments in which she was involved. And since then I have visited and spoken with her frequently on a range of issues. Thus, I feel like I have a special authority to talk about her qualifications.
Now I could spend plenty of time telling you what a terrific person the Judge is, but that is not the object of Rosen’s criticism. (Or, more accurately, the criticism of various anonymous folks– what courage they have!) First, Rosen relates the view that “she is kind of a bully.” (This is the same charge that Laura Ingraham made yesterday on Fox News Sunday.) That is completely false, unless bully is some kind of new code for “asks probing questions.” One one occasion I sat through a jury trial that the Judge presided over where the lawyers on both sides were very green. While I could tell that she was perplexed by their performance, she was unfailingly courteous to them. After the trial was over, she invited them back and spent considerable time talking with them about trial strategy (she was a prosecutor for several years) to help them out in the future. I also observed her conduct of settlement negotiations (in her discovery management role) and saw how patient and effective she can be in that context, which I think will serve her well if she gets the Court appointment. With respect to appellate argument, I never saw anything but the best behavior from her, even in cases (and there were a few) where I did not agree with the position that she took or where the lawyers arguing before the panel were clueless. Accordingly, the idea that she does not have an appropriate judicial temperament is absurd. I would instead describe her as politically savvy.
Second, Rosen conveys the view that the Judge is “not that smart” or that her opinions are not “clean or tight.” While I have not read every opinion she has written over the last seventeen years, once again this criticism is not at all consistent with what I know and with the opinions that I’ve read. The bottom line is that I have always been enormously impressed by her intellect, which is why I’ve always been eager to seek out her views on matters of professional concern. My academic interest in trademark law, for instance, got started from conversations that I had with her about her trademark practice when she was at her firm. It’s difficult to give you a brief anecdote with the takeaway of, “Hey, she’s really smart,” but Rosen’s collection of quotes sound like little more than sour grapes to me.
To be fair. Rosen does qualify his essay by quoting some positive comments about the Judge and by pointing out that he does not know enough about her to reach a conclusion. So I hope this post is helpful for him, especially as it’s actually on the record.