A few more observations on the Sotomayor pick, and Obama’s preference for personal experience above professional competence
As morning turned into afternoon, I found myself thinking about two things: First, whether Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor could be a trial balloon meant to pave the way for future picks; and, second, how the compelling nature of her story could be diametrically opposed to her competence on the bench. As it turns out, the two ideas run hand-in-hand.
I’ve always hoped that George W. Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers was little more than a trial balloon, that Bush knew the opposition to Miers’ lack of qualifications would make the confirmation of Samuel Alito easier down the road. Today, I found myself wondering whether the nomination of Sotomayor could be a similar trial balloon, meant to pave the way for people who could be more objectionable in terms of ideology, but at least a little more qualified on their face.
After originally thinking that Sotomayor could indeed be a trial balloon, I decided against it, considering that liberals always look to make up for unpalatable concepts by dressing them up in extrinsic matters of diversity and perceived equality. Sotomayor’s obvious judicial activism, in this case, is the bitter pill wrapped up in the bacon which is her unique and remarkable personal story. When it comes to someone so immensely wrong for this position, it will be her upbringing and unlikely ascension which will, hammered by the press, make this bitter pill easier to swallow by an obese, obedient and malleable American public.
Selling Sotomayor, a judicial activist who obviously holds skin color and heritage in higher esteem than the rule of law, a jurist who has been rebuked for missing basic constitutional principles applicable to controversies at hand, on the basis of her personal story as a qualification is akin to selling the new Government Motors econoclunker, inevitably an unreliable deathtrap, by pointing out its snazzy paint job and loud stereo system.
Personal story certainly didn’t matter to the Democrats when it came to Justice Clarence Thomas, nor did it matter when it came to the confirmation of Hon. Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Circuit Court. Furthermore, in objecting to and voting against both Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, then-Senator Barack Obama acknowledged that both were certainly qualified and had excellent judicial temperament, but they lacked a certain measure of experience and ideology that made them impossible to support.
In other words, neither Roberts nor Alito grew up in projects, nor did they view extrinsic matters such as race and national origin and family income as determinative factors when it came to questions of law. To Barack Obama, ideology and the capacity for empathy was all that mattered.
Yes, Sonia Sotomayor’s personal story is compelling and remarkable, but it should not bear upon her qualification to serve a life-long term on the bench of the United States Supreme Court. Instead, we should look at judicial temperament and both knowledge and adherence to the rule of law. On the former, Sotomayor is notorious for being difficult to deal with and hardly a decent consensus-builder; on the latter, it is important to know that, of the four occasions when an opinion she penned was overturned by the Supreme Court, three of those were because she incorrectly interpreted the statutes governing the questions at hand.
Kids, as this process continues, we will be bombarded with the idea that personal story is somehow more important than occupational competence. Coming from this administration, such an approach should certainly not be surprising — but that doesn’t make it true.