A Blank Slate to Paint On

Jeffrey Rosen is catching it from all directions on Memeorandum right now for, in his words, “indicting” Sonia Sotomayor’s qualifications to be Barack Obama’s pick to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court (not that he’s picked her, or anyone, yet) even though, by his own admission, he hasn’t “read enough of Sotomayor’s opinions to have a confident sense of them,” or “talked to enough of Sotomayor’s detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths.”

And he writes this disclaimer in the last paragraph, after calling her out for being a bully, nit-picky, not smart enough, and various other things, for eight paragraphs before that. And none of his sources are named. And several readers blast him in the Comments section for his characterization of Sotomayor, which they all say is way off base.

Matthew Yglesias hits the ball out of the park:

Sonia Sotomayor seems in many ways like exactly the sort of person Barack Obama would appoint to the Supreme Court. She was born to a working class Puerto Rican family in the South Bronx, and went from Cardinal Spelling High School to Princeton and Yale Law. She worked as an Assistant District Attorney and then went into private practice. George H.W. Bush nominated her for a seat on the Federal District Court, and Bill Clinton elevated her to a Circuit Court. In other words, she’s well-qualified, her work has managed to gain the respect of Republicans, and she’s had a more interesting range of life experiences than your typical Yale Law graduate.

That said, it is the case that the one person I ever seriously discussed this issue with expressed to me the view that Sotomayor doesn’t have the “intellectual firepower” of some other possible nominees and that it would be nice to see someone more impressively brilliant. This isn’t something I’ve written about up until now because:

  • I’ve never spoken to Judge Sotomayor.
  • I haven’t studied Judge Sotomayor’s opinions.
  • You don’t see a lot of dumb kids growing up in the South Bronx and winding up at Princeton.
  • So it struck me as wrong to run with an anonymous disparaging remark in the absence of actual evidence.

But apparently Jeffrey Rosen doesn’t roll that way, since he has a piece in The New Republic featuring various unnamed people making exactly this argument….
Really it seems to me that when you see a person who appears to be qualified in all the normal ways, you owe that person a presumption that she’s up to the job. I recall a lot of issues being raised during the Samuel Alito confirmation fight, but at that time I don’t remember anyone raising questions about the intelligence of a Princeton/Yale Law graduate who’d done time on a Appeals Court. Maybe we should make the two of them both take IQ tests or something?

Gerard Magliocca of Concurring Opinions has known Judge Sotomayor professionally for years:

I was not planning to say anything about the candidates to replace Justice Souter. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to do so after reading Jeffrey Rosen’s piece in the New Republic entitled “The Case Against Sotomayor.” (I’m sorry I can’t link to it here, but my home computer won’t allow me to do that for some reason.) Rosen’s negative characterization of the Judge, which is based on conversations with various unnamed lawyers, is inaccurate.

I have known the Judge for thirteen years. After my first year in law school, I was an intern in her chambers when she was a District Court judge. A few years after that, I was a clerk on the Second Circuit, where my judge sat with Judge Sotomayor on many panels and I observed oral arguments in which she was involved. And since then I have visited and spoken with her frequently on a range of issues. Thus, I feel like I have a special authority to talk about her qualifications.

Now I could spend plenty of time telling you what a terrific person the Judge is, but that is not the object of Rosen’s criticism. (Or, more accurately, the criticism of various anonymous folks– what courage they have!) First, Rosen relates the view that “she is kind of a bully.” (This is the same charge that Laura Ingraham made yesterday on Fox News Sunday.) That is completely false, unless bully is some kind of new code for “asks probing questions.” …

I believe it’s like a kind of compliment…. (any excuse to quote Carly Simon, sorry!)

I’m curious about this multi-pronged attack on Sotomayor, based mostly on whisper campaigns and conjecture. I can only conclude that, with these enemies, she must have a lot going for her.

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