Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Obama Hails Sotomayor as ‘Inspiring’

From the New York Times:

President Obama announced on Tuesday that he will nominate the federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court, choosing a daughter of Puerto Rican parents raised in a Bronx public housing project to become the nation’s first Hispanic justice.


Judge Sotomayor has said her ethnicity and gender are important factors in serving on the bench, a point that could generate debate. “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,” she said in a 2002 lecture.

She also once said at a conference that a “court of appeals is where policy is made,” a statement that has drawn criticism from conservatives who saw it as a sign of judicial activism. Judge Sotomayor seemed to understand at the time that she was making a controversial statement, adding that, “I know this is on tape, and I should never say that, because we don’t make law.”

Conservatives quickly pointed to such statements after word of her selection on Tuesday.

“Judge Sotomayor is a liberal activist of the first order who thinks her own personal political agenda is more important than the law as written,” said Wendy E. Long, counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network, an activist group. “She thinks that judges should dictate policy, and that one’s sex, race and ethnicity ought to affect the decisions one renders from the bench.”

More here.

Well, of course, I'm disappointed. I mean, Obama could have done a whole lot worse, I suppose, but Sotomayor is clearly no "liberal activist." Looking over some of her major past decisions on her Wikipedia page, she does indeed appear to be something of a "centrist" whatever that means these days. That is, she's not always in lockstep with judges who always rule in favor of big business, but she appears to side with the corporations a bit more often than not. She upheld the conservative "gag rule" on abortion aid abroad. She appears to be good on civil rights and gun control. A mixed bag, really, which is why I'm okay with calling her a centrist. Indeed, the same Wikipedia article cites ten sources describing her as a centrist.

Like I said, we could do a whole lot worse.

On the other hand, the right wing is trying to whip itself into a frenzy--just check out some of these posts over at Media Matters. Limbaugh calls her a "reverse racist." Televangelist Pat Robertson calls her the "worst" choice possible. Then there's the question about her remarks on gender and ethnicity informing decisions from the bench. That's got the conservatives squealing like pigs.

But really. Gender and ethnicity inform everybody's opinions on everything. People are simply fooling themselves when they call only for judges who do nothing but "interpret the law." It is impossible to do nothing but "interpret the law." I mean, okay, if you're worried about some weirdo coming along and deciding cases based solely on such issues, or even using them as major standards for decision making, I'm with you. Judges need to interpret the law. The point is that the law, and the courts, do not exist in some sort of social or historical vacuum: pretending to ignore how legal decisions function in the real world, pretending that justices do not carry bias with them onto the bench, is not only intellectually arrogant, but often downright dangerous.

When Sotomayor says that legal decisions are affected by the personal background of the judges making them, she's not asserting a radical judicial philosophy; rather, she's simply describing the way things are, and is most likely a better judge for her awareness of that reality.

On the whole, I'd personally prefer a real liberal judicial activist, keeping in mind that, as far as I can tell, all Supreme Court Justices practice "judicial activism" whether they're conservative or not. But given today's mainstream political climate, center right, my kind of nominee is simply impossible, even if the President were inclined to lean in that direction, which I don't believe. I guess I'll have to settle for someone who's simply not a far-right reactionary freakazoid.