She would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, if you don't count Benjamin Cardozo. (She went to Catholic schools and would also be the sixth Catholic justice on the current Supreme Court if she is, in fact, Catholic, which isn't clear from her official biography.)It fascinates me that practically no one dares to say too many Catholics. (Click that link, dammit.) If we're ever going to talk about group representation and diversity, we need to talk about the overrepresentation of Catholics. Catholics are 22% of the U.S. population. 6 is 66.6666% of 9.
On the other hand, we really can't suddenly start noticing all the Catholics just when a Hispanic name comes up for the first time. Who can estimate the destructive power of the resultant diversity vortex?
Back to Rosen:
Over the past few weeks, I've been talking to a range of people who have worked with her, nearly all of them former law clerks for other judges on the Second Circuit or former federal prosecutors in New York. Most are Democrats and all of them want President Obama to appoint a judicial star of the highest intellectual caliber who has the potential to change the direction of the court. Nearly all of them acknowledged that Sotomayor is a presumptive front-runner, but nearly none of them raved about her. They expressed questions about her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative.Not that smart. That's what I hear in that passage. The classic putdown. (Click that link, dammit.)
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 examples, 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.
Who are these unnamed former clerks? What brilliant star might they want to clear the path for?
The most controversial case in which Sotomayor participated is Ricci v. DeStefano, the explosive case involving affirmative action in the New Haven fire department, which is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court. A panel including Sotomayor ruled against the firefighters in a perfunctory unpublished opinion. This provoked Judge Cabranes, a fellow Clinton appointee, to object to the panel's opinion that contained "no reference whatsoever to the constitutional issues at the core of this case." (The extent of Sotomayor's involvement in the opinion itself is not publicly known.)(Interesting parenthetical. The extent of Rosen's knowledge of Sotomayor's involvement is not known by me.)
Not all the former clerks for other judges I talked to were skeptical about Sotomayor. "I know the word on the street is that she's not the brainiest of people, but I didn't have that experience," said one former clerk for another judge. "She's an incredibly impressive person, she's not shy or apologetic about who she is, and that's great." This supporter praised Sotomayor for not being a wilting violet. "She commands attention, she's clearly in charge, she speaks her mind, she's funny, she's voluble, and she has ownership over the role in a very positive way," she said. "She's a fine Second Circuit judge--maybe not the smartest ever, but how often are Supreme Court nominees the smartest ever?"Can you put a little more glue on that not-smart-enough label?