Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Sotomayor Tap Dance

With the ongoing economic turmoil and the looming possibility of socialized medicine, the Sotomayor hearings became an afterthought, a sideshow. Understandably so--in these difficult times, the focus is on job security and family finances. According to online media reports (we didn't bother watching the event on TV), the judge fared well in the boring proceedings--although she apparently back-pedaled furiously on some of her previously stated beliefs. But as a practical matter, and leaving politics aside, can we fault her--or any similarly situated person (to use lawyer-speak)--for that? In any job interview, everybody is on their best behavior. The name of the game is to get the gig--and when it comes to a high-profile federal appointment, that's what all nominees (and their handlers) generally try to do, regardless of their political party or ideology.

In addition to the prestige, being elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court is a cushy, lifetime sinecure--with great medical benefits! And once Judge Sotomayor is safely confirmed to the Supreme Court bench (which is a foregone conclusion), she can revert to her leftist judicial philosophy.

The judge did have to field some tough questions from some Judiciary Committee members, but unlike the horrible ordeal of Judge Bork, Justice Thomas, or Justice Alito among others, she received polite, respectful treatment, without the partisan character assassination that those jurists faced. And unlike Miguel Estrada (who probably was on the fast-track to the Supreme Court had he made it to the D.C. Circuit) and other highly qualified judicial selections whose nominations were sabotaged by bad-faith Democrat parliamentary trickery, she will of course get a vote before the full Senate after the nomination is rubber-stamped out of the committee. (The short-circuited Estrada nomination was also the result of the inexplicable failure of the Bush White House and the Justice Department under Alberto Gonzales to use their political megaphone.)

Even among her natural supporters, however, not everyone is enamored of Judge Sotomayor. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who usually follows the liberal playbook down the line, had this to say:
She is fully qualified. She is smart and learned and experienced and, in case you have not heard, a Hispanic, female nominee, of whom there have not been any since the dawn of our fair republic. But she has no cause, unless it is not to make a mistake, and has no passion, unless it is not to show any, and lacks intellectual brilliance, unless it is disguised under a veil of soporific competence until she takes her seat on the court. We shall see. In the meantime, Sotomayor will do, and will do very nicely, as a personification of what ails the American left. She is, as everyone has pointed out, in the mainstream of American liberalism, a stream both intellectually shallow and preoccupied with the past
And the reliably liberal Connecticut Law Tribune editorial board also has reservations about the nomination:
In short, although the addition of Judge Sotomayer would assure that the Supreme Court “looks more like America,” appearances can be deceiving. Beneath the surface, the court will be more homogenous than ever before. It will consist of professional federal judges, nearly all with Ivy League educations, mostly from the Northeast, and disproportionately Catholic. If diversity on the court is valuable because a wide range of backgrounds and experience strengthens collective decision making, then the court is becoming an increasingly impoverished decision maker...Whatever the explanation, we should pause before getting too carried away celebrating the increasing diversity of the Supreme Court. True diversity is, of course, not inconsistent with demographic diversity. But it requires more. And true diversity may be difficult to attain unless we somehow manage to extricate ourselves from a politically-charged confirmation process that demands nominees cut from the same safe mold.

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