Lawyers who have argued cases before Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor call her “nasty,” “angry” and a “terror on the bench,” according to the current Almanac of the Federal Judiciary — a kind of Zagat’s guide to federal judges.
The withering evaluation of Judge Sotomayor’s temperament stands in stark contrast to reviews of her peers on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Of the 21 judges evaluated, the same lawyers gave 18 positive to glowing reviews and two judges received mixed reviews. Judge Sotomayor was the only one to receive decidedly negative comments.
Judge Sotomayor’s demeanor on the bench will be one of the issues the Senate Judiciary Committee tackles when she appears for her confirmation hearing. A lack of a good temperament has been used as a line of attack against nominees in the past - most notably conservative Judge Robert H. Bork, whose nomination to the Supreme Court was defeated.
But several lawyers and legal scholars on a call organized by the White House said the criticism is misplaced and that Judge Sotomayor’s legal acumen is overwhelming.
“She does not suffer fools gladly,” said Kevin Russell, a partner for Howe & Russell P.C. who argued a case before Judge Sotomayor about respiratory ailments suffered by the men and women who cleaned up ground zero after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “I guess it is predictable that some of those fools would then complain about it.”
Much of the public vetting of Judge Sotomayor, whom President Obama nominated to be the first Hispanic woman to sit on the nation’s highest court, has focused on her range of rulings on hot-button social issues.
Although the same lawyers who chastised her temperament gave her high marks on her legal abilities, Judge Sotomayor was the only member of the 2nd Circuit to receive a universally negative review of her temperament.
“She really lacks judicial temperament. She behaves in an out-of-control manner. She makes inappropriate outbursts,” one lawyer told the almanac. Another said she “abuses lawyers.”
The authors of the almanac interviewed at least eight lawyers who practice regularly before the judges and granted them anonymity so that they could provide candid assessments, said Megan Rosen, the editor of the almanac. The guide profiles every federal judge.
Ms. Rosen said that although Judge Sotomayor’s evaluations in the area of temperament were harsh, lawyers clearly respect her abilities - something not true of every judge reviewed in the almanac.
“Generally, when lawyers have respect for a judge it shows in all their other categories,” Ms. Rosen said. “If you know it’s just the general demeanor of the judge, it can help ease some of the tension that would otherwise be there.”
The lawyer reviews cover the rulings, political leanings and legal abilities of the jurists. The almanac, published in November, said Judge Sotomayor writes good opinions, is liberal but careful to follow precedent and has good legal abilities.
“She is a direct and candid questioner,” said Thomas H. Dupree Jr., a former U.S. deputy assistant attorney general who has argued five cases before Judge Sotomayor since 2007.
People often mistake her intensity for aggression and anger, Judge Sotomayor told the Associated Press in 1998.