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Context of 'May 29, 2009: Neoconservative Columnist Says Debate over Supreme Court Nominee Should Focus on Judicial Philosophy, Not Gender or Race'

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Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor delivers a lecture at the University of California at Berkeley School of Law. Sotomayor, whose parents are Puerto Rican, speaks on the subject of Hispanics in the judiciary and her own experience as a Latina (Hispanic woman) jurist. After noting the tremendous cultural and ethnic diversity among Hispanics, and citing the ascension of increasing numbers of Hispanics and women to the judiciary, Sotomayor addresses the issue of judges acting without regard for their ethnic heritage or gender. “[J]udges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices and aspire to achieve a greater degree of fairness and integrity based on the reason of law,” she says, and notes that while she tries to aspire to that goal: “I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases. And I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society. Whatever the reasons why we may have different perspectives, either as some theorists suggest because of our cultural experiences or as others postulate because we have basic differences in logic and reasoning, are in many respects a small part of a larger practical question we as women and minority judges in society in general must address. I accept the thesis… that in any group of human beings there is a diversity of opinion because there is both a diversity of experiences and of thought.… I further accept that our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions. The aspiration to impartiality is just that—it’s an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others.” She adds: “Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases.… I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First… there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, 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. Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice [Benjamin] Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I… believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable.… However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench.” [National Council of La Raza Law Journal, 10/2001; ABC News, 10/26/2001 pdf file; New York Times, 5/14/2009] After Sotomayor is nominated to the Supreme Court (see May 26, 2009), many critics will use this speech to accuse her of racism (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, and June 3, 2009).

Entity Tags: University of California at Berkeley School of Law, Sonia Sotomayor, 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

Tom Goldstein, a veteran lawyer who maintains the Supreme Court-focused, nonpartisan “SCOTUSblog,” writes that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) will be the focus of caricatures and character attacks from the right, just as Justices Samuel Alito (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006) and John Roberts (see September 29, 2005) were from the left. Goldstein’s assessment is echoed by ABC’s “The Note,” an influential daily political newsletter. Goldstein, who has argued cases before the Court over 20 times, writes that barring some serious revelation of ethical violations, Sotomayor is almost guaranteed to be confirmed by the Senate, but before that, she will be subjected to attacks from what he calls “committed ideologues.” Few “mainstream Republican politicians will vocally join the criticism,” he predicts. In a political sense, it would be disastrous for Republicans to mount serious opposition to a Hispanic woman, or Latina. “To Hispanics, the nomination would be an absolutely historic landmark,” Goldstein writes. “It really is impossible to overstate its significance. The achievement of a lifetime appointment at the absolute highest levels of the government is a profound event for that community, which in turn is a vital electoral group now and in the future.” Such attacks would comprise “a strategy that risks exacting a very significant political cost among Hispanics and independent voters generally, assuming that the attacks aren’t backed up with considerable substance.” The attacks will come from any of four major areas, Goldstein predicts. [Tom Goldstein, 5/26/2009]
Attacks Led by Conservatives outside Congress - ABC’s Jonathan Karl agrees. He writes: “At the start, Senate Republicans will likely make innocuous statements about the need to thoroughly review her record, but make no mistake, GOP leaders, with a big assist from outside conservative groups, will wage a vigorous campaign against this nomination.… Senate Republicans don’t expect to defeat the Sotomayor nomination. But they hope to raise enough questions about the nomination to make it a tough vote for Democratic senators in more conservative states. They will also use the confirmation battle as an opportunity to motivate a demoralized Republican base” (see May 1, 2009). [ABC News, 5/26/2009]
Attacks on Sotomayor's Intellect - The first series of attacks, Goldstein writes, will focus on the claim that she “is not smart enough for the job.” He writes that this is a powerful line of argument with an equally strong potential for backlash, so it will be handled carefully and obliquely. Unfortunately for this position, he writes, “Sotomayor is in fact extremely intelligent.” She graduated at the top of her class at Princeton, and her judicial opinions “are thorough, well-reasoned, and clearly written. Nothing suggests she isn’t the match of the other Justices.” Goldstein’s predictions are reflected in a number of public columns and commentaries (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 29, 2009, and May 31, 2009).
'Liberal Ideologue and Judicial Activist' - The second line of attack will be purely ideological, focusing on the claim that she is a “liberal ideologue” and a “judicial activist.” While Sotomayor would be on the left of the Court, Goldstein writes, she is hardly a radical liberal. She is very similar to the man she is slated to replace, Justice David Souter, as a moderate, centrist liberal. Her appellate opinions as reviewed by the Court put her squarely with the left-center wing of the current Court. Karl writes, “They will call her an ‘activist’ judge intent on making law from the bench, not interpreting law.” Their predictions are reflected in a number of public columns and commentaries (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 29, 2009, May 29, 2009, and June 3, 2009).
Intolerant of Positions Contrary to Her Own - The third wave of attack will claim, Goldstein writes, that she is intolerant of positions with which she disagrees. Proponents of this line of attack will focus on a decision she wrote that upheld affirmative action laws to the detriment of white firefighters, on a panel appearance in which she acknowledged that appellate judges sometimes make public policy, and a speech where she talked about the role her gender and ethnicity played in her decision-making. They will also focus, Karl notes, on a 2002 speech where she said the sex and ethnic origin of a judge can affect their decisions. Sotomayor said, “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” (see October 26, 2001). “These reeds are too thin for that characterization to take hold,” Goldstein writes. The public “is easily able to accept a judge’s recognition of the lawmaking effects of her decisions and the influences of her background. There just isn’t any remotely persuasive evidence that Judge Sotomayor acts lawlessly or anything of the sort.” Goldstein’s predictions are reflected in a number of public columns and commentaries (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 29, 2009, and June 3, 2009). [ABC News, 5/26/2009; Tom Goldstein, 5/26/2009]
Personality Characteristics - The fourth wave of attacks will characterize her as, Goldstein writes, “gruff and impersonable,” based on some excerpts from oral arguments and a few anonymous criticisms voiced in the “Almanac of the Federal Judiciary.” Sotomayor can easily quash these attacks with a few well-turned statements in the public eye. From his own experiences arguing cases before the Court, Goldstein believes Sotomayor is similar in demeanor and temperment to Justices Roberts, Souter, and Antonin Scalia. Goldstein’s predictions are reflected in a number of public columns and commentaries (see May 27, 2009. May 29, 2009, and June 3, 2009).
Missed Line of Attack - Neither Goldstein nor Karl write about the direct attacks on Sotomayor’s race and gender that some conservatives will launch (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009. May 29, 2009, June 2, 2009, June 3, 2009, and June 5, 2009). Goldstein’s own analysis of Sotomayor’s rulings will thoroughly disprove the allegations of racial bias (see May 29, 2009).
Conclusion - Goldstein concludes, “All in all… her easy confirmation seems assured.” [Tom Goldstein, 5/26/2009]

Entity Tags: David Souter, Sonia Sotomayor, Jonathan Karl, US Supreme Court, Thomas Goldstein, ABC News

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Fox News pundit Sean Hannity attacks the character of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009), using carefully selected quotes from former colleagues who remain anonymous. Hannity tells his listeners: “[W]hat do the lawyers who have appeared in her courtroom think of her judicial temperament? Well, not much. The Almanac of the Federal Judiciary solicits commentary from practicing attorneys about our federal judges. Now here’s what some lawyers who have argued before Judge Sotomayor had to say about her. Quote, ‘She is a terror on the bench. She is overly aggressive, not very judicial. She behaves in an out-of-control manner. She is nasty to lawyers.’” Hannity does not tell his listeners of some of the other comments about Sotomayor in the Almanac: “very smart,” “very intelligent,” “stern,” “an exceptional judge overall,” and “has a very good commonsense approach to the law.” One commentator wrote: “She can be tough as nails, but, in truth, I think some lawyers give her a hard time or are threatened by her. She’s very accomplished and clearly smart, and, in truth, I think they’re intimidated. She has always been decent enough to me.” Another wrote: “She’s very smart and well prepared, and she expects lawyers to rise to her level. She has very little tolerance for lawyers who can’t match her intellectually.” [Think Progress, 5/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Sean Hannity, US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Pat Buchanan on MSNBC.Pat Buchanan on MSNBC. [Source: Vosizneias (.com)]Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan calls Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) an “affirmative action candidate” for the Court. “I don’t say it’s an outrage, I say it’s affirmative action,” Buchanan says. “They were picked because she’s a woman and a Hispanic and you know it as well as I do.” His sole evidence for his claim is the fact that President Obama apparently had no males on his short list of potential nominees. When host Norah O’Donnell points out that in past nominations the list of nominees had been exclusively white males, and perhaps “there weren’t any white men who were qualified” this time around, Buchanan calls her a bigot. When guest Lawrence O’Donnell, a former Democratic Senate staffer (and no relation to the host), asks if he would have raised similar objections if the list had contained no women, Buchanan refuses to answer. Think Progress correspondent Amanda Terkel notes that Buchanan has, in the past, avowed that slavery was good for African-Americans, wished for an America that was 90 percent white, and accused Hispanics of not wanting to “assimilate.” Lawrence O’Donnell says of Buchanan’s argument: “It’s like watching a dead fish flop around on the deck. You’re dead on this one, Pat. It’s all over.” [Think Progress, 5/27/2009] The next day, Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes follows Buchanan’s lead, saying that Sotomayor is “one of those who has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously.” Radio host William Bennett, featuring Barnes as his guest, replies, “Did she get into Princeton on affirmative action, one wonders,” to which Barnes repeats, “One wonders.” [Think Progress, 5/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Patrick Buchanan, Fred Barnes, Amanda Terkel, Lawrence O’Donnell, Sonia Sotomayor, Norah O’Donnell, US Supreme Court, William J. Bennett

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

Former George H. W. Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan joins the ranks of Republicans (see May 28-31, 2009, May 29, 2009, and May 29, 2009) asking for a more moderate and less inflammatory tone in recent criticisms of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009 and May 26, 2009). Republicans should “play grown-up,” she advises, in opposing the Sotomayor nomination, and notes that her background—disadvantaged, Hispanic, female—makes her dangerous to oppose too vehemently: “Politically she’s like a beautiful doll containing a canister of poison gas: Break her and you die.” Noonan continues: “New York is proud of her; I’m proud of our country and grateful at its insistence, in a time when some say the American dream is dead, that it most certainly is not. The dream is: You can come from any place or condition, any walk of life, and rise to the top, taking your people with you, in your heart and theirs. Maybe that’s what they mean by empathy: Where you come from enters you, and you bring it with you as you rise. But if that’s what they mean, then we’re all empathetic. We’re the most fluid society in human history, but no one ever leaves their zip code in America, we all take it with us. It’s part of our pride. And it’s not bad, it’s good.” Noonan calls Republicans who launch virulent attacks on her racial heritage or gender “idiots,” and writes that instead of “exciting the base,” as one Republican strategist has said the attacks will do, “How about excit[ing] a moderate, or interest[ing] an independent? How about gain[ing] the attention of people who aren’t already on your side? The base is plenty excited already, as you know if you’ve ever read a comment thread on a conservative blog.… They don’t need to be revved, they’re already revved. Newt Gingrich twitters that Judge Sotomayor is a racist (see May 27, 2009). Does anyone believe that? He should rest his dancing thumbs, stop trying to position himself as the choice and voice of the base in 2012, and think.… The choice for Republicans isn’t between ‘attack’ and ‘roll over.’ It’s broader than that, and more interesting. There’s a new and fresh opportunity here for Republicans in the Senate to be serious, and, in their seriousness, to be seen and understood in a new light.” [Wall Street Journal, 6/1/2009]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Newt Gingrich, Sonia Sotomayor, Peggy Noonan

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

A doctored photo of Sotomayor issued by the Council of Conservative Citizens. The robe and hood have been added to the photo, as has the ‘raised-fist’ logo.A doctored photo of Sotomayor issued by the Council of Conservative Citizens. The robe and hood have been added to the photo, as has the ‘raised-fist’ logo. [Source: Council of Conservative Citizens / Think Progress]The Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC), a pro-segregation group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has called “brazenly racist,” posts a doctored photograph of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) on its Web site. The altered photograph depicts Sotomayor wearing what appears to be a robe and hood similar to those worn by members of the Ku Klux Klan. The robe has a raised fist and the words “La Raza.” Sotomayor is a member of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a Hispanic civil rights organization which some conservatives have falsely claimed is a racist organization (see May 28, 2009 and May 29, 2009). An NCLR spokesman confirms that the logo in the photograph is not used on any basis by the organization. [Think Progress, 6/2/2009]

Entity Tags: National Council of La Raza, Council of Conservative Citizens, US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, Southern Poverty Law Center

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) writes what appears to be a retraction or withdrawal of his previous accusations that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) is a racist (see May 27, 2009). He writes that he was reacting to the news of remarks she made during a 2001 speech in which she said a “wise Latina” judge would often make better decisions than a white male (see October 26, 2001), and calls his “initial reaction… perhaps too strong and too direct.” Others have criticized his “word choice” in his vilification of Sotomayor, and Gingrich writes, “The word ‘racist’ should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable (a fact which both President Obama and his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, have since admitted)” (see May 29, 2009). Gingrich then launches an attack on Sotomayor’s “judicial impartiality” and accuses her of “a betrayal of a fundamental principle of the American system—that everyone is equal before the law.” Gingrich is either unaware of, or ignoring, a recent analysis which disproves the thesis that Sotomayor has systematically exhibited racial bias in her rulings (see May 29, 2009). He calls her a “radical liberal activist” masquerading as a “convention[al] liberal,” and lambasts Obama for believing that “judicial impartiality” is “no longer a quality we can and should demand from our Supreme Court justices.” [Think Progress, 4/3/2007; Human Events, 6/3/2009] Liberal news and analysis Web site Think Progress notes that Gingrich may not be the most impartial person to weigh in on this issue, having called Spanish “the language of living in the ghetto” and warned of “gay and secular fascism” as an imminent threat to American society. [Think Progress, 4/3/2007; Think Progress, 11/17/2008]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, Newt Gingrich, Barack Obama, Robert Gibbs, Think Progress (.org)

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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