A judge too far
With his nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court, President Obama has abandoned all pretense of being a post-partisan president. While he may like to think of himself as a thoughtful moderate soaring above the issues that divide America, his actions reveal what hides under that hopeful lining.
Presidents usually nominate judges that espouse their philosophy. So what does this nomination tell us about Mr. Obama’s true colors?
Even the liberal establishment worries that Judge Sotomayor tilts too far to the left. New Republic essayist Jeffrey Rosen reports that fellow liberals who have watched or worked with her closely “expressed questions about her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and [. . . they have said] she is ‘not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench.’ ”
A suspiciously high number of her decisions have been overruled by higher courts. Wendy Long of the Judicial Confirmation Network said that record shows “she is far more of a liberal activist than even the current liberal activist Supreme Court.”
There will be much to say in days to come about Judge Sotomayor’s manifest lack of appropriate judicial re- straint and about other problems in her record. For now, though, three red flags beg for attention.
“Where policy is made”: Speaking at Duke University Law School in 2005, Judge Sotomayor said the “Court of Appeals is where policy is made.” On its face, the assertion runs counter to more than 200 years of American legal tradition holding that courts are merely meant to interpret existing law, not actively make policy choices.
Immediately realizing she was on thin ice, the judge continued: “[. . .] and I know this is on tape and I should never say that, because we don’t ‘make’ law.” To much laughter, and with facial and hand gestures to indicate that her next line was to be taken with humor as a useful fiction, she added: “I’m not promoting it and I’m not advocating it.”
But judicial activism is no joke. It undermines the Constitution and substitutes judicial whim for democratic decision-making. Unelected judges, answerable to no one but themselves and serving for life, can all too easily become dangerous oligarchs.
White judges know less: Judge Sotomayor seems to think that inherent racial and sexual differences are not simply quirks of genetics, but make some better than others. Consider her 2002 speech at the University of California-Berkeley School of Law.
“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,” she said. “I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.”
She also accepted as potentially valid the idea that the “different perspectives” of “men and women of color” are due to “basic differences in logic in reasoning” due to “inherent physiological or cultural differences.” If a white male had said these openly racialist words in a prepared speech, his chances of reaching the U.S. Supreme Court would be gone in an instant. Instead, it seems that these outlandish remarks are what qualified Judge Sotomayor in Mr. Obama’s eyes.
Rewarding discrimination: Judge Sotomayor seems to favor racial discrimination. Consider the case of Ricci v. DeStefano. In that controversial case, 19 white firemen were denied promotion because no blacks scored high enough on a race-neutral test to also be promoted. Judge Sotomayor ruled against the white firefighters.
If Mr. Obama wanted a judge with the right “empathy,” he struck out with Judge Sotomayor. One of the white firefighters denied promotion, Frank Ricci, is dyslexic. In order to ace the promotion exam, he quit a second job, spent $1,000 for instruction materials, and spent many hours reading those books into an audio tape to help him study. For his extraordinary efforts, he finished sixth out of 77 applicants for promotion — but then was denied, simply because he is white.
Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jose Cabranes, appointed by a Democratic president, complained that the ruling written by Judge Sotomayor and two other judges “contains no reference whatsoever to the constitutional claims at the core of this case.”
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on Ricci v. DeStefano before the Senate votes on Judge Sotomayor’s nomination. It would be an extraordinary rebuke were a current nominee to be overruled on such a controversial case by the very justices she is slated to join.
Judge Sotomayor seems to be the most radical person ever nominated for the high court. To continue to command public respect, the Senate will have to ask her some hard questions. The simplest one to ask will be the hardest one for her to answer: Given her statements against whites and males, can she be fair to all Americans?