Monday, July 13, 2009

Is Sotomayor Suitable?

Today began the grueling...okay, the not-so-grueling Senate confirmation hearing of Sonia Sotomayor. It seems her way to the Supreme Court is greased, due in no small part to the Senate make-up right now and the presumed lack of resistance from the Senate Republicans. There's little doubt Sotomayor will cruise to confirmation.

But does that make her qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice? This is the point of contention that isn't really being discussed at great length, and what discussions that are going on are of the partisan variety. Her supporters point to her background and thoroughness as an Appellate Court Judge as strengths, while her detractors point to her track record of being overturned and her seemingly radical views off the bench as reasons she shouldn't be confirmed.

Personally, I'm taking politics out of it and looking at one element of the job and one element alone: the duties of a Supreme Court Justice. If you remember your civics classes, the role of the Judicial Branch is to interpret the law. In the case of the Supreme Court, that law is the Constitution of the United States. To even be considered a passable Justice, one must exhibit an exceptional knowledge of the Constitution. These folks truly are the legal elite.

Now, let's review Sotomayor's legal reasoning to date. Regardless of how often she says, "The task of a judge is not to make the law --- it is to apply the law," as she did today, she is on record as saying the exact opposite years ago. Not to mention, some of her rulings show that she's not afraid to go outside the letter of the law to craft a ruling that suits her needs. If a Justice is supposed to apply the law, Sotomayor's record does her little good.

Then, there's "The Statement." For the uninitiated, Sotomayor said in a speech in 2001 that a "wise Latina" might make a better legal decision than a white male because the former has a different life experience. Although I don't question the notion that different people have different things they bring to the table, does it necessarily make one wiser than the other? It might make one's life broader, but wiser? That's pushing it.

Finally, there's how Sotomayor approached the cases at the appellate court level. When the case was brought up, as the Washington Post recently reported, she would go over it with a fine-toothed destroy the case of the side she opposed. In other words, she essentially re-argued the case as she should have had she been one of the lawyers. Her supporters marvel at her attention to detail, but I have to question her methods. An appeals judge is supposed to review the case and determine if the ruling was correct. Sotomayor clearly overstepped her bounds, and with a position on the Supreme Court, nobody will be able to stop her from doing it again.

If the Republicans in the Senate won't say it, I will. Sonia Sotomayor has not established yet that she's as impartial or as fair as she says she is. If anything, she's shown a track record of disregarding the very laws she was charged to protect when those laws proved to be inconvenient. That's not a person we should want on the high court, or any court for that matter. As much as I appreciate her backstory, it means little when you're charged with upholding the law, which knows no race, creed, gender, or life story.

Ms. Sotomayor, I'm not looking for a wise Latina to sit on the Supreme Court; I'm looking for a wise judge. And as it stands now, I don't think you qualify.

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