A Fair Point.


I tried my best to avoid the hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor. It’s honestly hard to tell what the Senators really think because they’re so busy show-boating, and the only thing you’ll learn about Sotomayor is that she, like others before her, has the innate or practiced ability to be as bland as possible in the face of inanity.

These hearings had added annoyances, of course. But I will say this, Jim Geraghty, a contributing editor for the National Review, made a pretty fair point on The Brian Lehrer Show yesterday. I had assumed Republicans were harping on the so-called “wise Latina” speech and the policy-making statements because they had nothing else: her record shows a mainstream jurist who is smarter than most of the senators interviewing her. But Geraghty’s point was that you can’t really look at her case history, because judges on lower federal courts are enormously bound by precedent. The only court that can set a new precedent is the Supreme Court. So you can’t really know what a judge will do until they’re a justice. And you kind of can’t blame them for being careful. They’ve been screwed before.

Geraghty also made the point that Sotomayor’s rhetorical flourish defense is a little hard to swallow. Also fair. We all know she meant what she said. Most would, I hope, see her statement as a simple, untroubling fact when taken in context. Others, well…I think we know what side of history they tend to fall on.

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9 thoughts on “A Fair Point.

  1. Symphony July 17, 2009 at 7:09 pm Reply

    Precedent. All the more reason the “activist judge” cries were ridiculous. A real activist judge would let what they say in their speeches sway their judicial opinions.

    But if they wanted to put on a show that’s fine and quite understandable. I’m sure they scared a lot of people. And everyone else saw them as condescending, bigoted, sexist jerks.

    • quadmoniker July 17, 2009 at 7:20 pm Reply

      Yeah, exactly. If she were an activist judge she never would have hewed to precedent. And also wouldn’t have gotten the nomination. As G.D. says, like everything else Obama does, it was a really smart pick. The ways that Republicans are picking her apart are really really ugly.

      But I do think it’s a fair, though mild, point to say that her past cases don’t tell you a lot about who she is, or what she believes. And judges really don’t decide based on their beliefs, and it’s ridiculous to say Sotomayor would. But if you wanted to find her judicial philosophies, her speeches are probably a better way than her decisions or her answers during the hearing. The problem comes between those who think the speeches are great, and those who think they’re not.

      • Symphony July 17, 2009 at 8:03 pm Reply

        I agree her speeches matter. Her ideology will shape how she will interpret law. Though jurists don’t like to admit it, the Supreme Court is an extension of politics. There is a reason the same group of justices vote together all the time.

  2. shani-o July 17, 2009 at 7:10 pm Reply

    I think that is a good point Geraghty made about lower court judges being bound by precedent. And I understand this is why the senators were trying to ferret out her personal opinions on the 2nd Amendment, Roe, etc.

    However, and correct me if I’m wrong, wasn’t the assumption that Stevens was going to be on the conservative side? And he ended up being more liberal in his decisions? Which is how he ‘screwed’ the conservatives in the Senate at the time?

    If so, I disagree with your assessment that the GOP senators are being ‘careful.’ They appear to think Sotomayor is a big ole activist liberal, and they’re just being jerks. And, of course, they’re trying to give their Republican colleagues cover for not voting for her.

    • quadmoniker July 17, 2009 at 7:13 pm Reply

      Yes, you’re right about Stevens. But that’s my point. You can’t predict how a judge will rule. Yes, the conservatives are just giving themselves political cover. But there are some points they make that aren’t wrong.

  3. Steve July 18, 2009 at 1:58 pm Reply

    The only thing the republicans have gotten out of this is getting Sotomayor to basically say Obama’s empathy model is wrong…

    and could pave the way to challenging more liberal justices in the future effectively…

    • ladyfresh July 18, 2009 at 3:34 pm Reply

      The only thing the republicans have gotten out of this is getting Sotomayor to basically say Obama’s empathy model is wrong…

      Actually they haven’t. All they’ve done at this point is to make everyone question their biases with regards to empathy

    • ladyfresh July 18, 2009 at 3:40 pm Reply

      oh wait i missed the ‘sotomayor saying’ part

  4. Steve July 19, 2009 at 8:11 pm Reply

    I mean she basically said empthy is the wrong model.

    they can maybe use that later again future nominees

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