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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sotomayor's Supporters May Spin Her Out Of A Job

The White House explanation for Sonia Sotomayor's 2001 "wise Latina" statement was that Sotomayor used a "poor" choice of words and certainly would "restate" the language. This spin made no sense, as the full text of the 2001 speech made clear that Sotomayor did not misspeak or use uncertain language. Rather, the speech taken as a whole and in context was a reiteration of standard identity-politics in which Sotomayor specifically was responding to and rejecting identity-neutral approaches of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Judge Miriam Cedarbaum.

Sotomayor seemed to confirm this defense yesterday, although obliquely, through a statement released by Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy:
"Of course one's life experience shapes who you are," but she added, "Ultimately and completely, a judge has to follow the law no matter what their upbringing has been."
Now it is revealed, by Greg Sargent, a supporter of Sotomayor no less, that Sotomayor used almost identical language in a 1994 speech:
“Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that “a wise old man and a wise old woman reach the same conclusion in dueling cases. I am not so sure Justice O’Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes the line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, if Prof. Martha Minnow is correct, there can never be a universal definition of ‘wise.’ Second, I would hope that a wise woman with the richness of her experience would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion.”
So the White House spin holds no water. There was no misspoken word. The language in question appears to be part of Sotomayor's stump speech.

The spin by Sargent and others is that since Republicans did not object to the language when Sotomayor was nominated to the Court of Appeals in 1998, there must be nothing wrong with the language. Sargent's spin makes less sense than the White House spin.

First, as noted in the The Economist, the 1998 speech did not contain the explicit comparison to the judgment of white males, as does the 2001 speech, so it is less objectionable on its face. Second, regardless of whether anyone noticed the language in 1998, Sotomayor now is being nominated to the Supreme Court and people have noticed. It's like arguing against a speeding ticket because last time the cop let you go. Third, as Ben Smith points out, the existence of the 1994 speech "also makes it harder for the White House to cast it as a slip of the tongue."

The White House thought it was doing Sotomayor a favor by spinning the "wise Latina" language as a poor choice of words. Pat Leahy thought he was doing Sotomayor a favor by spinning the language as nothing of significance. Greg Sargent thought he was doing Sotomayor a favor by spinning the language as old news.

Although I reject identity-politics in the judicial context, I am not yet convinced that Sotomayor would be a bad choice, given the alternatives. I'm still taking a wait and see approach. There may come a point at which I would support Sotomayor, but that point may be moot at this rate, as the spin from Sotomayor's supporters is doing more damage to Sotomayor than the "wise Latina" language itself.

As with Nancy Pelosi's shifting explanations of her knowledge of waterboarding, Sotomayor's supporters' spin is surrounding Sotomayor with herself, which is a losing strategy. Keep putting forth more ridiculous spin, and Sotomayor's supporters may just end up spinning her out of a job.

UPDATE: JustOneMinute points out that the 1994 speech used the term "wise woman" not "wise Latina."
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  1. I'm reminded of all the criticism of McCain by Democrats for choosing a female running mate in a blatant attempt to pander to women voters. Of course, that doesn't apply to Obama.

  2. The Republican party is the party of white conservatives... mostly male.

    Google the Gallup pole,

    "Republican Base Heavily White, Conservative, Religious"

    The good professor and Republicans is general want America to believe that white conservative males are the only Americans that don't self identify.

    Please, please take your philosophy to the voters, I'm begging you.

    It's so much fun watching the Republican party dying a slow, embarrassing death it really is.

    Best of luck with minority and the young voter in 2012.

    Palin/Joe "The Unlicensed" Plumber in 2012 for teh win!

  3. I'm just worried that she's Harriet Miers bait, with someone even more extreme in the offing, after S.S. has worn down the resistance.

  4. "I'm just worried that she's Harriet Miers bait..."

    I wouldn't worry about that too much Smitty1e.

    That changed with the election.

    Bush had the long and nasty habit of appointing political hacks and his personal sycophants over such things as "competence" or "qualifications".

    Btw, Sarah Palin as a female, represents women as much as Clarence Thomas represents African-Americans.

    Look at Palin's daughter and her "abstinence only" education... how'd that work out?

    Sorry, Palin is not an advocate for Women's Rights... she's a right-wing hillbilly that can't handle half an hour of "Meet the Press".

  5. The Obama Administration cannot be happy seeing the confirmation focusing on identity politics/Affirmative Action-related issues that left-liberals are completely on the wrong side of according to 1 zillion opinion polls going back to the Founding or further. The bounce that Obama got upon announcing So-So has completely receded. He may get a rally-round-the-flag bounce for his foreign trip - or may not depending on how it goes - but if they don’t manage to change the subject somehow as the hearings commence and climax, this could be a wound that bleeds for a long time, and leaves a scar.

  6. timely poll:


    via Jennifer Rubin at Commentary/Contentions, who's been doing great coverage on So-So:


  7. Professor Jacobson, I am agog with curiousity as to why you are not yet convinced that Sotomayor would be a bad choice. I can get why, as a conservative, you liked the idea of Cass Sunstein, because (this from Wikipedia) he's into judicial minimalism, which seems to be a liberal way to say following precedent. But what about Sotomayor's legal philosophy do you think is ok? What about Ricci? Maybe you will post more thoughts on Sotomayor later. Six Catholic justices on the Supreme Court?? My grandmother would have been overjoyed. What with, you know, their rich life experience and all....

  8. Thank you. I often use your blog in my AP English class as an example how poor writing and poor punctuation can muddle a message. Here's an example. Sometimes your errors make your writing almost incomprehensible. Sometimes they just make me laugh.

    Above, for example, where you attribute a quote to Senator Leahy, either you think Leahy is a woman, or you misattributed the quote, or you don't know how to use quotation marks. A law professor, of all people, should know how important accurate punctuation is. Lawsuits have been filed and won on the basis of a misplaced comma.

    Your writing is riddled with such errors. If you are going to continue to spew the neonsense you spew here, the least you could do is get a grad student to copyedit your work.

  9. Alex, who refuses to use an identifiable i.d., obviously cannot read. It is quite clear in my post that the quote in question was Sotomayor's statement released by Leahy, not Leahy's own statement.