The applause from Sotomayor on the Left is, you’ll pardon me for saying, canned. They know Sotomayor is not a solid judicial candidate, so they’re focusing on the usual race and sex packaging. The excitement isn’t there. This is rote identity politics. A good example is Ruth Marcus’s column applauding Obama’s choice, which I reproduce, not in its entirety, but only with the statements I wanted to fisk:
And yet the arguments for picking Sotomayor were awfully strong. Her life story is compelling in a way that mirrors Obama’s own amazing trajectory: the child of Puerto Ricans, rising from the public housing projects of the Bronx to the pinnacles of the legal profession, overcoming adversity (childhood diabetes, the early death of her father) along the way. [The standards for a compelling life story keep dropping lower and lower. Apparently the ingredients are ambition, one missing parent, possible health issues and — and this is the important one — minority status, coupled with the correct politics. As Sally Zelikovsky points out, minority status coupled with the wrong politics is not compelling. No way. And as I’ve pointed out, given that Sotomayor went through Ivy League schools, just as Obama did (and, as with Obama, I’m willing to bet that she got in through affirmative action), and given that she’s sucked at the government teat ever since then, her life story is as compelling as a rock. Also, if I hear the trite phrase “compelling life story” one more time, I’m going to scream.]
She brings an impressive breadth of credentials and experience, from the grittiness of the Manhattan district attorney’s office to the rarefied precincts of intellectual property law to the nuts-and-bolts life of a trial court judge. [That’s meaningless. I have no idea what Marcus thinks the “rarefied precincts of intellectual property law” are. I’ve been there and done that. Mostly it’s a lot of document review. As for being a trial court judge, the vast percentage before whom I’ve appeared are either power hungry or activist or idiots, or some combination of all three. It’s not much of a recommendation.]
And the obvious attractions, both symbolic and practical, of having the first African-American president name the first Hispanic to the high court were not lost on Obama. The Sotomayor choice, of course, satisfies an important Democratic Party constituency; if health care and climate change end up eclipsing immigration reform this year, a Hispanic justice can help reduce the grumbling. [Aha! Here’s the meat behind the pander. Things aren’t going well for Obama, so he’s throwing a bone to Hispanics in hopes that he everyone will stop complaining. Sadly, it will probably work, at least in the short term.]
Since Obama is likely to have more than one high court spot to fill, picking a Hispanic woman for the first vacancy gives him maximum flexibility for the future — maybe even a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, a somewhat endangered species among the justices. [At least she’s honest. But given the rubric of identity politics, what kind of WASP does she have in mind? A lesbian? A straight female? Couldn’t be a man, of course, no matter how brilliant and admired he is.]
Indeed, Sotomayor’s supposed assertiveness may have been a plus in Obama’s eyes.
“The question for him was, ‘Is this a person who’s got the toughness, the intellectual capacity, to stand up to John Roberts?’ ” said one senior administration official. “He came out of his interview with her on Thursday and said that he had no concerns whatsoever about her intellectual ability to stand up to Roberts.” [Pretty much tells you what Obama wants in a judge. He doesn’t want the best legal mind. He wants someone to carry out his agenda, and who is too dumb to back away from a fight with intellects greater than hers.]
I’d also like to hear more from Sotomayor herself about some out-of-court statements — for instance, this from a 2001 speech:
“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 who hasn’t lived that life.”
A bit of hyperbole in the service of diversity (my guess) or a disturbing bit of identity politics (as the National Journal’s Stuart Taylor sees it). Forgive me, though, if I detect a whiff of sexism in the bully-on-the-bench rap; somehow I doubt that a male judge would be so chided for being firm with litigants. [So let me see if I understand this: to defense to a manifestly racist and sexist statement from Sotomayor is to . . . accuse her challengers of being sexist. Is there no serious argument left in this world?]
Ditto, with a bit of racism thrown in, the barely sourced and inadequately supported suggestion of Sotomayor as an intellectual lightweight. I find it awfully hard to reconcile that with graduating summa cum laude from Princeton. [Sad to say, I can’t get excited about her graduating summa cum laude from Princeton. For one thing, getting good grades in college is an entirely different skill set from being a quality legal analyst, a fact to which I can personally attest. A legal brain is a rather unique thing. If it’s allied to an intelligent person, that’s great, but not all intelligent people have good legal brains. The other thing is that the Ivy Leagues and other top private colleges are renowned for grade inflation. For one thing, since parents are paying through the nose for the privilege of their children attending these schools, the schools want to give bang for the buck, with bang translating, not as a good education, but simply as good grades. Also, teachers are afraid to give minorities bad grades. When it comes to these schools, the product is so cheapend, anyone with sense takes its reports with a grain of salt.]
In any event, for all the disparaging of hearings as useless Kabuki, in my experience they’ve served remarkably well in elucidating, for better (David Souter, Roberts) or worse (Clarence Thomas), the nominee’s intellectual capacity and temperament. [Did I just understand Marcus to rank Souter up with Roberts as an intellectual, while denigrating Thomas? I’m speechless. Has she ever read anything these judges have written? I have. Roberts is a delightful writer and a first class thinker. Thomas is a business-like writer and a first class thinker. Souter is an idiot.]
As to the portrayal of Sotomayor as flaming liberal, I defer to the judgment of Tom Goldstein of the invaluable ScotusBlog:
“There is no question that Sonia Sotomayor would be on the left of this Supreme Court, just not the radical left,” he wrote. “Our surveys of her opinions put her in essentially the same ideological position as Justice Souter.” [Um, so she’s a liberal idiot? And this is a recommendation?]
Bottom line: Marcus’ optimism notwithstanding, Sotomayor doesn’t have the chops to make much of a difference on the court. She is indeed a perfect replacement for Souter, since she’s about his intellectual and ideological equal. Jennifer Rubin explains, though, what’s really going on here, which is a bit more worrisome:
[T]he president is not concerned about an intellectual powerhouse who can lure Justice Kennedy to “his side.” He thinks there will be plenty of time to tip the court with future nominations. He wanted a constituent-pleasing, safe “liberal” vote on the court.
UPDATE: Michelle Malkin just savages the “compelling life story” pabulum. Is this beautiful, or what?
If Sotomayor were auditioning to be Oprah Winfrey’s fill-in host, I’d understand the over-the-top hyping of her life narrative. But isn’t anybody on Sotomayor’s side the least bit embarrassed by all this liberal condescension?