Wednesday, July 15, 2009

sotomayor's testimony

I lean against the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, who I think is a decent but not especially outstanding judge who has been in the right place at the right time for most of her career. Since her nomination seems assured, however, I think her testimony is most interesting for what it says about the confirmation process and the likely future of the Supreme Court. For the liberals who support her, I don't think it is particularly encouraging on either count.

Sotomayor is most famous for saying that a "wise Latina woman" could use her experience to reach better or at least more balanced decisions than her white male counterparts, adding (I'm not sure if this is a direct quotation) that empathy as well as intellect was important to effective adjudication. Whatever one thinks of these statements, they are a succinct and accurate summary of the philosophy that inspired her selection and, indeed, of the liberal approach to the judicial process as it developed over the past half century. By backing away, slowly but surely, from these assertions, Sotomayor is implicitly conceding the moral high ground in this dispute and emboldening those who oppose these concepts altogether.

The defensive posture above also bodes poorly for the future of the Supreme Court. Perhaps this is all a matter of strategy and Justice Sotomayor will turn out to be a feisty defender of various liberal positions. But it seems at least as likely she will trim her sails in an effort to avoid characterization as a "diversity" justice, or at a minimum that she will lack the conviction (not to say votes) to slow down the court's increasingly assertive march to the right. Barring the untimely death or illness of one of the conservative justices, that march seems only likely to accelerate, and an opportunity to have provided a serious ideological challenge to it will have been lost.


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