One critique of Sonia Sotomayor is that even if she is a capable judge and sharp legal mind, she’s not the fearsome intellect that liberals want on the court to counter conservative heavyweights like Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Antonin Scalia.
This critique received a lot of attention earlier this month when the New Republic’s Jeffrey Rosen raised questions about Sotomayor’s capabilities, citing interviews with a handful of anonymous law clerks and prosecutors who worked with Sotomayor in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. One law clerk for another judge called Sotomayor “not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench.”
I can also say that there is a general impression among some Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee that Sotomayor is no Diane Wood.
But two very smart and well-known left-leaning legal scholars whom I spoke with today both categorically reject the idea that Sotomayor won’t be able to stand toe to toe with Roberts and Scalia.
“Everything I’ve heard about her is quite impressive. I would not believe anonymous griping from people, especially given the fact that people tend to be more likely to engage in that against someone who isn’t a part of the club,” said Pamela S. Karlan, director of the Stanford Law School’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, who is herself mentioned as a possible nominee for the Supreme Court down the road.
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California-Irvine, said he also worries about complaints against “a woman of color.”
“Everything I know about her leads me to believe she is an extremely intelligent person,” he said. “I also know her a bit, and I think she’s extremely smart. I think she has a life experience that may help persuade them, including Justice [Anthony M.] Kennedy. The whole game on the Supreme Court is persuading Justice Kennedy.”
Chemerinsky also said Sotomayor is a “brilliant political pick.”
“There’s not going to be the votes to stop her, and for Republicans to go after the first Hispanic justice would be politically harming themselves with a growing political constituency,” he said.
UPDATE - 7:38 p.m. - President Obama called Sotomayor “one of America’s finest legal minds” in an e-mail that was sent to supporters by the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America, the organization that grew out of the Obama campaign.
That was a phrase he did not use when introducing his nominee this morning at the White House.
The e-mail points supporters to a video message that the president recorded today to sell Sotomayor to Americans who don’t get their news from TV or newspapers, and also will serve as a promotional tool to build political support for her confirmation.
— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times