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Context of 'May 26, 2009: Columnist Backs Away from Initial Criticism of Supreme Court Nominee'

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John Roberts.John Roberts. [Source: In These Times]John Roberts is approved by the Senate to become the new chief justice of the US Supreme Court, replacing the recently deceased William Rehnquist (see September 5, 2005). Roberts, who once clerked for Rehnquist while Rehnquist was an associate justice, also served in the Reagan Justice Department and as an associate counsel to then-President Reagan. He was deputy solicitor general in the first Bush administration. George W. Bush appointed him to the DC Circuit Court in 2001. [White House, 9/29/2005] Roberts was originally nominated to succeed the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor, but when Rehnquist died, Bush quickly withdrew the nomination for associate justice and refiled Roberts’s name for chief justice.
Characteristics and History - Roberts appeals to conservatives for a number of reasons; he has a powerful legal intellect, is soft-spoken, personable, and telegenic, and has not been outspoken about his views on issues like abortion and the right to privacy. Law professor Stephen Wermiel, who knows Roberts well, said in July that Roberts is not “somebody who… comes off as gruff or overbearing, which some people will recall was a factor in the [Robert] Bork hearings in 1987” (see July 1-October 23, 1987). Wermiel called Roberts’s nomination “a stroke of brilliance on the White House’s part.” One area of controversy surrounds Roberts’s work with Governor Jeb Bush of Florida during the bitterly contested 2000 presidential election, where Roberts helped construct the strategies used in the Bush v. Gore case that awarded George W. Bush the presidency. Another is Roberts’s membership in the Federalist Society, an organization of conservative activist judges, lawyers, and legal thinkers. A third is his advocacy, during his time with the first Bush administration, for scrapping decades of law providing for the separation of church and state in order to allow prayer in public schools. [National Public Radio, 7/20/2005] Four days before President Bush nominated him to the Court, Roberts voted in favor of upholding the Bush administration’s assertions about its wartime powers in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), ruling that Bush need not consult Congress before setting up military commissions, and ruling that Bush is not bound by the strictures of the Geneva Convention. Liberals are unhappy with his stance against abortion, his representation as a private attorney of corporate mining interests seeking to dodge environmental regulations and of businesses trying to evade affirmative action requirements, as well as his attempts to curb environmentalists’ efforts to save endangered species. In 2007, reporter Charlie Savage will write that while progressives and liberals busily attacked Roberts for his positions on various “hot-button” issues, “[a]lmost lost amid the hubbub was” Roberts’s “unwavering commitment to the [expansion of] presidential power,” dating back to his 1980-81 clerkship under Rehnquist and his tenure as a White House lawyer under Ronald Reagan (see June-July 1983, October 1983, February 13, 1984, and May 16, 1984). [Savage, 2007, pp. 251-255]
Quick Confirmation - The Senate agreed to expedite Roberts’s confirmation process in order to allow him to preside over the next session of the Supreme Court in October, and so gave its members little time to peruse his record. Roberts sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, and is confirmed by a 78-22 vote. Roberts hit a brief snag when he divulged that he had met with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales just six days before hearing oral arguments in the Hamdan case, had met with Vice President Cheney and a select coterie of top White House officials while considering his verdict, and had met with Bush for the president’s final approval on the Court nomination the same day that he handed down his favorable ruling. Though 22 Democrats vote against his confirmation, because Roberts’s ascension to the Court does not change the ideological balance among the nine justices (Roberts is replacing the equally conservative Rehnquist), Senate Democrats decided not to filibuster his nomination. [Dean, 2007, pp. 154-155; Savage, 2007, pp. 252]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Stephen Wermiel, Senate Judiciary Committee, Federalist Society, George W. Bush, Charlie Savage, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

New Republic legal correspondent Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University, writes an analysis of appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor, considered by many to be a leading candidate to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court.
Rose from Poverty to Consideration for High Court - Rosen gives a brief biographical sketch of Sotomayor, whom he labels as a “compelling” candidate both for her legal accomplishments and her life story. Sotomayor is the daughter of poor Puerto Rican immigrants, grew up in the South Bronx, and graduated with high academic honors from Princeton and Yale. She has served as a prosecutor, a corporate litigator, and a judge. If nominated and confirmed, Sotomayor would be the Court’s first Hispanic member and only its third female member. She has the support of both New York senators, Democrats Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Conflicting Opinions Largely from Anonymous Sources - Rosen notes that her former clerks praise her as “demanding but thoughtful” and “commit[ted] to legal fairness,” a “rule-bound pragmatist—very geared toward determining what the right answer is and what the law dictates, but her general approach is, unsurprisingly, influenced by her unique background.” Rosen quotes several anonymous sources—“nearly all… former law clerks… or former federal prosecutors in New York”—who, he says, question “her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative.” According to one former law clerk, Sotomayor is “not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench,” egotistical, and “domineering.” In contrast, one of his named sources, fellow Second Circuit appeals court judge Jose Cabranes, said of her, “She is not intimidated or overwhelmed by the eminence or power or prestige of any party, or indeed of the media.” Anonymous sources tell Rosen that Sotomayor is more apt to quibble with a colleague’s grammar and syntax rather than the focus of their legal arguments. Another former clerk praises Sotomayor for being tough-minded and “impressive.” Rosen admits that he has not read enough of Sotomayor’s opinions “to have a confident sense of them,” nor has he “talked to enough of Sotomayor’s detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths. It’s possible that the former clerks and former prosecutors I talked to have an incomplete picture of her abilities. But they’re not motivated by sour grapes or by ideological disagreement—they’d like the most intellectually powerful and politically effective liberal justice possible. And they think that Sotomayor, although personally and professionally impressive, may not meet that demanding standard.” Rosen concludes that President Obama would be taking an unnecessary “gamble” by nominating her to the high court. [New Republic, 5/4/2009]
Repercussions of Analysis - Rosen’s column triggers several demeaning characterizations of Sotomayor in the conservative press (see May 4, 2009 and May 5, 2009), characterizations that will intensify when she is nominated for the Court (see May 26, 2009). His use of anonymous sources to base his negative coverage will be repudiated by a number of critics (see May 5, 2009).

Entity Tags: Charles Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand, Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court, Jose Cabranes, Jeffrey Rosen

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda

Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates lambasts law professor Jeffrey Rosen for his recent analysis of prospective Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 4, 2009). Citing Rosen’s line, “I haven’t read enough of Sotomayor’s opinions to have a confident sense of them, nor have I talked to enough of Sotomayor’s detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths,” Coates responds: “Rosen is attacking Sotomayor’s ability to do the necessary intellectual heavy-lifting, while explicitly neglecting to do any of his own. In this instance, his piece reads like a burglar’s brief against rampant criminality. Authored mid-robbery, no less.” She also slams her Atlantic colleague Marc Ambinder’s criticisms of Sotomayor (see May 5, 2009), noting, “You don’t get to be the ‘respectable intellectual center’ and then practice your craft in the gossip-laden, ignorant muck.” [Atlantic Monthly, 5/5/2009] Former civil litigator Glenn Greenwald joins Coates in criticizing the early attacks on Sotomayor. Greenwald calls Rosen’s reliance on anonymous sources to attack Sotomayor’s character and professional conduct “shoddy, irresponsible, and… intellectually irresponsible,” and cites several instances where Rosen’s reporting has been countered by sources willing to go on the record. Greenwald writes of his amazement at how quickly Sotomayor has been “transformed in conventional wisdom, largely as a result of Rosen’s piece, into a stupid, shrill, out-of-her-depth Puerto Rican woman who is being considered for the Supreme Court solely due to anti-merit, affirmative action reasons.” Greenwald writes that he twice faced Sotomayor in court, and found her “extremely perceptive, smart, shrewd, and intellectually insightful.” She could be forceful, “at times unpleasantly so,” he recalls, and remembers being dressed down by her for a “substantial procedural mistake” he committed, but notes that such behavior by judges “is the opposite of uncommon.” Greenwald writes that behavior usually characterized as “tough,” “forceful,” and “authoritative” by white males is often reworked into characterizations of “domineering” and “egotistical” when the same behaviors are exhibited by women. Greenwald also notes that Rosen was one of the strongest media voices in favor of the nomination of conservative jurist John Roberts (see September 29, 2005) to the Court. [Salon, 5/5/2009] Less than a month later, Sotomayor will be nominated to the Court (see May 26, 2009).

Entity Tags: Glenn Greenwald, Sonia Sotomayor, Ta-Nehisi Coates, US Supreme Court, Marc Ambinder, Jeffrey Rosen

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

New Republic columnist Jeffrey Rosen, stung by criticism of his recent article using anonymous sources questioning the character and reputation of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 4, 2009, May 5, 2009, and May 26, 2009), attempts to backtrack from his original assertions. He writes, “Of course, Judge Sotomayor should be confirmed to the Supreme Court,” and continues: “In my view the strongest case to be made for Sotomayor is not her inspiring life story: [Supreme Court Justice] Clarence Thomas overcame similar personal obstacles, but far from giving him a sense of empathy, his background has created a sense of anger and ideological rigidity. Instead, the strongest case to be made for Sotomayor is the idea that the range of her experience—as a trial judge, appellate judge, and commercial litigator—might give her the humility to recognize that courts participate in a dialogue with the political branches when it comes to defining constitutional rights, rather than having the last word.… Conservatives are already citing my initial piece on Sotomayor as a basis for opposing her. This willfully misreads both my piece and the follow-up response. My concern was that she might not make the most effective liberal voice on the Court—not that she didn’t have the potential to be a fine justice. Questions of temperament are often overlooked, but history suggests that they are the most relevant in predicting judicial success. (Justice [Antonin] Scalia may be a brilliant bomb-thrower, but has failed in his attempts to build coalitions and bipartisan majorities.) Now is the time to think more broadly about the role Justice Sotomayor is likely to play on the Supreme Court, and I look forward to doing that in the weeks ahead.” [New Republic, 5/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, Jeffrey Rosen

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer advises fellow Republicans not to use racial or gender-based attacks against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009). Noting that barring an unforeseen incident, she will be confirmed to the high court, Krauthammer writes: “What should a principled conservative do? Use the upcoming hearings not to deny her the seat, but to illuminate her views. No magazine gossip from anonymous court clerks (see May 4, 2009). No ‘temperament’ insinuations (see May 27, 2009). Nothing ad hominem (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009. May 29, 2009, June 2, 2009, and June 3, 2009). The argument should be elevated, respectful, and entirely about judicial philosophy.” The debate should focus “on her statements about the inherent differences between groups, and the superior wisdom she believes her Latina physiology, culture, and background grant her over a white male judge (see October 26, 2001). They perfectly reflect the Democrats’ enthrallment with identity politics, which assigns free citizens to ethnic and racial groups possessing a hierarchy of wisdom and entitled to a hierarchy of claims upon society.… Vote Democratic and you get mainstream liberalism: a judicially mandated racial spoils system and a jurisprudence of empathy that hinges on which litigant is less ‘advantaged.’” [Washington Post, 5/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Sonia Sotomayor, US Supreme Court, Charles Krauthammer

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

After meeting with Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says he has fundamental questions about her judicial philosophy and temperament, and adds he will likely not vote to confirm her to the high court. “I was very direct,” he tells reporters of his conversation with Sotomayor. “I have to decide how to play this game, quite frankly. If I use the same standard that Senator [Barack] Obama used, then I would not vote for you, quite frankly.” Graham is referring to votes cast by then-Senator Obama against Justices John Roberts (see September 29, 2005) and Samuel Alito (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006) in which Graham asserts that Obama voted against them on ideological grounds. “He used a standard, I think, that makes it nearly impossible for a person from the opposite party to vote for the nominee,” Graham says. Many political observers feel that Graham is something of a bellwether of Republican sentiment; a former judge advocate general officer, Graham is considered one of the better legal minds in the party, and his opinion carries great weight with his colleagues. Other Republicans may follow his lead in coming out in public opposition to the nominee. Graham says he asked Sotomayor about her “wise Latina” comment (see October 26, 2001), but refuses to say how she responded. Graham also says he has questions about her temperament, saying that while she was friendly in the meeting, he cannot ignore other lawyers’ negative assessments of her personality (see May 4, 2009). “I think she does have the intellectual capacity to do the job,” Graham says. “But there’s a character problem. There’s a temperament problem that they—during the time they’ve had to be a judge, that they were more of an advocate than an impartial decider of the law. And I’ve got to find out, in my own mind” about her temperament. [Politico, 6/3/2009] On Fox News, Graham contradicts his earlier assessment, saying that Sotomayor has “sterling character.” [Think Progress, 6/3/2009]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Lindsey Graham, Sonia Sotomayor

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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