The Liberal Version of Harriet Miers
by Mychal Massie (bio)
Here we go again with all the hubbub over race, sex and ethnicity.
I care no more about the sex, ethnicity or life story of President Obama's nominee to replace Justice David Souter than if she is fat, chews gum or has three toes.
What I do care about is Sonia Sotomayor's judicial demeanor, temperament and grasp of constitutional law.
The Supreme Court is supposed to be the last point of address in our system of justice. It is paramount that those before it have confidence that they are before a competent and impartial court. Therefore, those who sit on it must be chosen solely on their legal acumen and not their gender, race or ability to empathize - tangentially or otherwise.
Concern about Sotomayor's qualifications come from across the political spectrum. Jeffrey Rosen, the legal affairs editor for The New Republic, wrote about reservations among her colleagues in the magazine's May 4 issue:
[D]espite the praise from some of her former clerks, and warm words from some of her 2nd Circuit colleagues, there are also many reservations about Sotomayor... The most consistent concern was that Sotomayor, although an able lawyer, was "not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench... She has an inflated opinion of herself, and is domineering during oral arguments, but her questions aren't penetrating and don't get to the heart of the issue"... Her opinions although competent, are viewed by former prosecutors as not being especially clean or tight, and sometimes miss the forest for the trees...
Some former clerks and prosecutors expressed concerns about her command of technical legal details: In 2001, for example, a conservative colleague, Ralph Winter, included an unusual footnote in a case suggesting that an earlier opinion by Sotomayor might have inadvertently misstated the law in a way that misled litigants.
Rosen added: "I haven't read enough of Sotomayor's opinions to have 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. 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."
Sotomayor's supporters, however, seem more fixated on her life story than her legal proficiency.
Focusing on Sotomayor's ethnicity, background, gender and upbringing serves only to obfuscate and detract from what matters most. Being a Puerto Rican woman who grew up disadvantaged makes her no more qualified than failed Bush Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers was simply because the President said so.
The novelty and value of firsts and limited numbers should of consideration only for collectibles and memorabilia.
Sotomayor must be thoroughly vetted by the Senate on her ability and temperament. The fact that she has been overturned on appeal in 60 percent of her cases should be of grave concern. Her position on the Second Amendment is important to many voters. Although it is argued she is taken out of context, having read and re-read her 2002 comments at Berkeley, I still find no way a rational, fair-minded person cannot be troubled by her racial comments.
Sotomayor's association with the race-centric National Council of La Raza is also troubling.
America is a nation of firsts. Almost everything about it relates to setting new standards and breaking new ground. It does a disservice to that legacy to rubber-stamp ill-thought and irreversible decisions such as Sotomayor's nomination.
Americans cannot have it both ways. There cannot be complaints about race and gender holding people back while arguements for advancement based on the same thing. Neither viewpoint is fair to the fabric of our nation.
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Mychal Massie is the chairman of the black leadership network Project 21. Comments may be sent to [email protected].
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints
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