It is being widely reported that Ms. Sonia Sotomayor is President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. Briefly, Sotomayor was first appointed by President George H.W. Bush to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1992. She served there until 1998, when President Clinton appointed her to the U.S. Appeals Court. Clinton’s nomination occurred in 1997, but her confirmation took about 1 year.
The Administration is hoping for hearings in July and a confirmation before summer recess. The case for Sotomayor: Compelling personal biography (raised in housing projects in the Bronx, later attended top law schools, has had a lifelong struggle with diabetes). In her Senate confirmation to the U.S. Appeals Court, Sotomayor won the support of 25 Republicans, including eight senators who still serve. The case against Sostomayor: Jeffrey Rosen, writing for the left-leaning The New Republic, writes (in part):
The most consistent concern was that Sotomayor, although an able lawyer, was “not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench,” as one former Second Circuit clerk for another judge put it. “She has an inflated opinion of herself, and is domineering during oral arguments, but her questions aren’t penetrating and don’t get to the heart of the issue.” (During one argument, an elderly judicial colleague is said to have leaned over and said, “Will you please stop talking and let them talk?”) Second Circuit judge Jose Cabranes, who would later become her colleague, put this point more charitably in a 1995 interview with The New York Times: “She is not intimidated or overwhelmed by the eminence or power or prestige of any party, or indeed of the media.”
Her opinions, although competent, are viewed by former prosecutors as not especially clean or tight, and sometimes miss the forest for the trees. It’s customary, for example, for Second Circuit judges to circulate their draft opinions to invite a robust exchange of views. Sotomayor, several former clerks complained, rankled her colleagues by sending long memos that didn’t distinguish between substantive and trivial points, with petty editing suggestions–fixing typos and the like–rather than focusing on the core analytical issues.
Unfortunately, Sotomayor is an advocate of affirmative action, identity politics (highlighting race and gender over against intrinsic, objective criteria) and a woman’s “right” to abortion. And from a more conservative perspective, Ed Whelan, writing the The Corner (National Review) offers a negative evaluation of Sotomayor’s sense of fairness.