Judging Sonia Sotomayor?

The confirmation hearings for Judge Sotomayor before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee have concluded.  Her confirmation now appears to be a foregone conclusion.

As the smoke clears, here are five things that I took away from the hearings:

1. Stephen Carter’s book title “The Confirmation Mess,” still succinctly summarizes the confirmation process for a Supreme Court Justice. The process – with Senators asking questions without listening to answers and nominees cowed from fully developing their judicial philosophies — is an incredible exercise in tedium and wastefulness. We learn more about the nominee from how he or she responds to the circus-like atmosphere than we do from the substance of the answers to the questions.

2. Latinos still face hurdles in being fully accepted in the public sphere in U.S. society. The Senators seemed flummoxed at times with the proper treatment to afford a Latino candidate given their lack of experience with one as a nominee for the highest Court in the land. For example, Senator Coburn’s reference to Judge Sotomayor having some “splaining to do,” a reference to a line of a stereotypical Cuban-American (not Puerto Rican) sitcom star from the 1960s, amazes me. (If I were to say something like this to a job applicant, an employment discrimination claim would soon be coming.). Similarly, the persistent demonization of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, a mainstream Latino civil rights organization, by the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee was deeply troubling. With an African American candidate, can we imagine a reference to Sanford & Son or attacks on the NAACP Inc. Fund (or the Federalist Society, the arch-conservative group that promoted Justices Scalia and Alito as well as Chief Justice Roberts) ? I think not. Even the attacks on Thurgood Marshall in 1967 were more subtle in certain respects than those on Judge Sotomayor.

3. Judge Sotomayor is a judge in the mainstream of American judges. She judges by the book. From the beginning of the hearings when she emphasized her commitment to the rule of law and her view of the rule of law as applying the law to the facts, not making law, Judge Sotomayor showed that, like previous nominees, she knows and accepts the appropriate role of judges. Her 17 years of judging demonstrate that Judge Sotomayor is a “judge’s judge,” a characteristic that none of the Senators placed in question in the four days of hearings.

4. Judge Sotomayor has the temperament to be a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Tapping into long-held stereotypes of the “hot blooded” Latino (like Ricky Ricardo, see above), some questioned Judge Sotomayor’s judicial temperament. The only evidence of any temperament issues was that she was an aggressive questioning at oral argument and a handful of lawyers criticized her in anonymous evaluations. The fact that Judge Sotomayor could put up with four days of questions, many bordering on the ridiculous, while taking each and every one as seriously as the last, demonstrated a patience that, in my estimation, was most impressive. She was unflappable in answering the questions, refused to allow some of the Senators to put words in her mouth, and stuck to her guns. It was a most impressive performance. And, I have little doubt that she will be more generous to advocates in the Supreme Court than some sitting Justices.

5. When she is confirmed, the nation as a whole should be proud that Sonia Sotomayor – and her incredible life story – made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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9 Responses

  1. Publius says:

    Judge Sotomayor’s unflappability may be as much due to the Obama/Biden murder boards as her personality (notwithstanding Al Franken’s “the White House didn’t prepare you” for the Perry Mason question).

    This current crew seems much more effective than those who did not prepare Harriet Meiers for the conservative onslaught.

  2. Jaime says:

    Several of the Senators reminded me of the pro pers into court who come armed with passion but don’t quite get law. Similar to the good judges who look behind the pro per’s failings and try to salvage the point the unrepresented pro per is trying to make, she improved the character of the few ridiculous questions by refusing to sink to the veiled ad hominem attacks,answering only the serious, relevant matters. Bravo!

  3. humble law student says:

    You wrote that you couldn’t imagine a reference to the “arch-conservative group” the Federalist society. Umm, Alito and Roberts were both criticized for being part of the Federalist society.

  4. A.W. says:

    a racist has no place on the court. period.

  5. AYY says:

    Well you had me going there for a while, Dean Johnson

    You know Maryland Conservatarian usually comments on posts like the ones you’ve written. But he hasn’t commented on your posts. Interesting. And Alan Sokal–haven’t seen much of him lately either. Got me thinking that maybe they knew something I didn’t.

    What gave it away was when you called the Federalist Society “arch-conservative”, called Maldef et al “mainstream”, and the singlemindedness with which you pushed the Sotomayor-victimization agenda.

    Let me guess what happened. One day long ago after you had all your leftist credentials, you stumbled into a Federalist Society meeting. Maybe it was an accident. Or maybe it was a dame. No harm in that. Could have happened to the best of us.

    But then you went back. And you went back again, and again, and again. And you learned the secret handshake, and the secret code. Maybe they pried you with promises of being a substitute host on Rush Limbaugh. Maybe they gave you an all expense paid trip for a week to Hillsdale, Michigan. Maybe they had you read Instapundit or Volokh.

    Or maybe it was something else. But get to you they did. And one day you learned that instead of making three left turns you could get to the same place easier and faster by making one right turn. And then you were hooked.

    But you and they didn’t want anyone to know. So you, with their assistance, kept on with the guise of a leftist. And then there was the long awaited phone call from Concurring Opinions. It was all part of the plan for you to become
    THE FEDERALIST SOCIETY MOLE WHO HAS INFILTRATED CONCURRING OPINIONS SO THAT YOU CAN TURN THE LIBERALS INTO ARCH-CONSERVATIVES.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Well I certainly don’t plan on telling anyone. We can keep this to ourselves. But do try not to try so hard. Someone else is bound to pick up on it.

  6. Vigilante says:

    Yeah! Now that all the GOP’s cards have been played, those of us who laid down our bets years ago that 20th Century Dixiecrats would morph into 21st Century Republicants can collect our winnings and leave the table!

  7. JD says:

    It is pretty amusing that Dean Johnson describes very liberal organizations as “mainstream,” but the Federalist Society as “arch-conservative,” and he’s apparently unaware of how or why it’s amusing.

  8. “Judge Sotomayor is a judge in the mainstream of American judges. She judges by the book.”

    Based on my readings of Prof. Johnson,I believe that if he really thought that statement were true, he would not be such an enthusiastic supporter of Judge Sotomayor.

    “…or the Federalist Society, the arch-conservative group…”

    Perhaps for a future post, the Professor/Dean can outline just what it is about the Federalist Society that makes it an “arch-conservative” one…and for extra credit, how exactly Judge Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy – as indicated by her testimony before the Senators (as opposed to her writings and speeches) – is a “mainstream” alternative to such “arch-conservative” thinking.

    [and actually AYY, I did comment on an earlier posting by Prof. Johnson (and I believe one of your’s followed)]