President Barack Obama made a wise and appealing choice in nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. So what is all this fuss about her qualifications and her legal temperament, and why are some pundits attacking her credentials?
Could it be that some of them are using this nomination to raise their own public profile? Might it be a partisan fund-raising tool to fill depleted coffers or to fire up the base?
Sotomayor's fiercest critics seem to have settled on three bogus arguments: judicial activism (she's a liberal), affirmative action (she's a racist) and insufficient credentials (she's not qualified). All three are but examples of fringe elements grasping at straws. Nevertheless, let's go at them one at a time.
First, judicial activism. Isn't that really just the new buzzword? It's an inescapable label in this political climate. Anything is activism when jurists attempt to explain how they adhere to the law. These attacks are unoriginal and lack substance.
To understand the basis for the extremists' talking points on Sotomayor's "judicial activism," read the entire statement she made on a panel at Duke University in 2005. Some members of the media have used Sotomayor's explanation of the relationship between district and appellate courts as proof of her desire to legislate from the bench. In fact, those with any legal background understand that it was a statement of obvious fact, not opinion.
Sotomayor isn't predictable enough to be an activist. Her decisions are varied and adhere to no single or rigid ideology, which must be part of the reason why Obama selected her. Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John Walker, appointed by President George H. W. Bush, noted, "I don't consider her to be an ideological judge or an activist judge pushing a political agenda."
Second, racism. Is Sotomayor a racist because she upheld a lower-court case regarding affirmative action and equal opportunity? Or because she expresses pride in her background as a Latina?
There is a small but vocal chorus of conservatives who are accusing her of being a "racist, angry and even a bigot." Some others have stated that Sotomayor supports "reverse racism." Now, this term has never made sense to me. And those other statements are just pure reactionary hyperbole.
Racism, in my understanding, is the belief in a hierarchy determined by the inherent differences between races. It is the application of a stereotype to an individual. Racism is racism, whether it's directed at Asians or Caucasians. "Reverse racism" is a meaningless term. Racism is not something you can invert, but I find fault with the argument beyond the semantics of it.
Sotomayor, like Justice Samuel Alito during his confirmation hearings, has expressed pride in her background. Here's what Alito had to say:
"When a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant — and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases — I can't help but think of my own ancestors because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position. And so it's my job to apply the law. It's not my job to change the law or to bend the law to achieve any result. But when I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, 'You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother.' They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country."
Alito only highlighted his immigrant background, but like Sotomayor, they don't necessarily apply the law but acknowledge how it shaped their lives. Besides, we should all be more careful is calling someone a racist. It is not a term to throw around lightly — and the slur is not blunted by putting "reverse" in front of it.
Finally, is Sotomayor qualified for the position? The argument is laughable. Not only did Sotomayor graduate from Princeton summa cum laude and then graduate from Yale Law School as editor of the Yale Law Review and managing editor of the Yale Studies of World Public Order, but she served as an assistant prosecutor before being nominated to the federal bench by former President George H.W. Bush, where she served as the youngest judge in the Southern District of New York.
The criticisms of her qualifications are vague and unspecified, and include meaningless character attacks by anonymous sources. Across the board, those who worked for and with her commend her in superlative terms. As New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau wrote recently in the New York Daily News, "Sonia Sotomayor possesses an abundance of wisdom, intelligence, collegiality and good character. Sotomayor is where she is today because of her talent. Those who insinuate otherwise don't know her, or simply paint her as they do for political reasons having nothing to do with the truth."
The often-anonymous and highly inflammatory attacks against Sotomayor will not stick. Her critics ought to be ashamed of themselves for pouring lethal toxins into the body politic. They are flailing, and let's hope they fail to turn the upcoming Senate confirmation process into a political Chernobyl.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR; contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill; and former campaign manager for Al Gore.