Court Watch: The Princeton Years, PRLDEF, and Questions About Temperament
By Garance Franke-Ruta
Today in court news, we learn about Judge Sonia Sotomayor's time at Princeton University and how that university influenced her understanding of difference and identity in America, as well as her civil rights work with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. We also hear more questions about her temperament, and her thinking on abortion rights. Meanwhile, the pushback against her critics in the punditocracy has begun -- and is being led by members of the GOP.
Politico's Ben Smith crosses the Hudson: "But for the second time in the Obama era, the stodgy Ivy League academy has emerged as a key to understanding the identity of a central player on the national stage -- this time, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who graduated from Princeton nine years earlier." Well worth a full read.
At the New York Times, Jo Becker and Adam Liptak's story "Sotomayor's Sharp Tongue Raises Issue of Temperament" revisits the question of temperament first raised by the New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen in a piece that became the subject of controversy and has since been seized upon by critics of the appellate judge. The Times writers paint a more balanced picture of a judge who runs a "hot bench" and who puts some off but wins others with her gregarious manner.
"Nominee's Links With Advocates Fuel Her Critics" report Raymond Hernandez and David W. Chen in the Times: "Ms. Sotomayor's involvement with the defense fund has so far received scant attention. But her critics, including some Republican senators who will vote on her nomination, have questioned whether she has let her ethnicity, life experiences and public advocacy creep into her decisions as a judge. It seems inevitable, then, that her tenure with the defense fund will be scrutinized during her confirmation hearings."
The Post's Robert Barnes and Michael D. Shear find that President Obama is confident that Sotomayor will defend abortion rights, even if they have not spoken of such directly. "White House officials appeared eager to send a message that abortion rights groups do not need to worry about how she might rule in a challenge to Roe v. Wade," they report.
Writing in Double X, Cornell law professor Eduardo M. Peñalver -- who clerked on the Second Circuit for Judge Guido Calabresi and on the Supreme Court for Justice John Paul Stevens -- seeks to explain Sotomayor's "wise Latina" statement: "Crucial to understanding Judge Sotomayor's argument is the way in which decisions are made in appellate courts. Both the court on which she sits and the court to which she aspires decide cases collectively. This context is crucial because a large body of social science evidence confirms Judge Sotomayor's contention that ensuring that a group includes people with a variety of viewpoints and life experiences increases the reliability of the group's decision-making process. Diverse groups are more likely to reach the right conclusion because the different members of the group complement each other's blind-spots and reduce the likelihood that commonly held, but incorrect, assumptions will carry the day." An interesting exposition of some of the social science of small group dynamics.
Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, urges Republicans to "play grown-up." "She is of course a brilliant political pick--Hispanic when Republicans have trouble with Hispanics, a woman when they've had trouble with women. Her background (public housing, Newyorican, Catholic school, Princeton, prominence) is as moving as Clarence Thomas's, and that is moving indeed. Politically she's like a beautiful doll containing a canister of poison gas: Break her and you die," writes Noonan.
"Some, and they are idiots, look at Judge Sotomayor and say: attack, attack, kill. A conservative activist told the New York Times, 'We need to brand her.' Another told me a fight is needed to excite the base," she continues later in the piece. "Excite the base? How about excite a moderate, or interest an independent? How about gain the attention of people who aren't already on your side?"
On NPR, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn rebukes Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich for crossing the line by calling Sotomayor "racist" for her "wise Latina" remarks: "I think it's terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent," Cornyn said on "All Things Considered," calling their remarks "not helpful under any circumstances."
"Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials," he said of Gingrich and Limbaugh. "...I just don't think it's appropriate. I certainly don't endorse it. I think it's wrong."
Posted at 12:33 PM ET on May 29, 2009
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