Wednesday, July 15, 2009

After two days of hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, it appears that her strategy for confirmation is to contradict herself at every turn. She spent much of yesterday claiming not to have meant the things she actually said or not to have ruled the way she actually ruled. For the first time, therefore, it is not just her judgment but also her integrity that is in question.

Consider this exchange from very early in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questioning. Speaking of her infamous line, repeated in seven speeches, that a “wise Latina” would be more likely to rule correctly than a “white male,” Judge Sotomayor said this: “The words I used, I used agreeing with the sentiment Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was attempting to convey.”

The record is the direct opposite, as a matter of incontrovertible fact. Here’s what she actually said in her multiple speeches: “Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O’Connor is the author of that line since [Yale Law] Professor [Judith] Resnik attributes that line to [Minnesota] Supreme Court Justice [Mary Jeanne Coyne]. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as [Harvard Law] Professor Martha Minow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Judge Sotomayor could not have been “agreeing with … Justice Sandra Day O’Connor” — as she claimed yesterday — while being true to her previous position that, “I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement” attributed to Justice O’Connor.

She also contradicted the second half of that speech paragraph above when she told Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, “My words have created a misunderstanding. I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging. Every person has equal opportunity to be a good or wise judge, regardless of life experiences.” The judge also claimed that she was “trying to play on [Justice O’Connor’s] words. My play fell flat. It was bad … a rhetorical flourish that fell flat.” If it was an unimportant “rhetorical flourish” that “fell flat,” why did she use the same words in at least six other speeches?

Likewise, on Monday, she said, “I seek to strengthen both the rule of law and faith in the impartiality of our justice system.” But in her “wise Latina” speech she said, “The aspiration to impartiality is just that — it’s an aspiration because it denies the fact that we are by our experiences making different choices than others.” Also, she said that “there is no objective stance but only a series of perspectives — no neutrality …”

Judge Sotomayor was equally misleading in trying to explain away her controversial statement at Duke University that “court of appeals is where policy is made”; in wrongly claiming that her decision denying an already earned promotion to white firefighters was based on “binding precedent”; and in approving an outrageous seizure of private property by the Village of Port Chester, N.Y., in order to give it to another private developer for the exact same land use.

And so on.

Rarely has a high court nominee ever been forced so often to contradict herself or the clear record in order to avoid being denied confirmation. It is not a pretty sight.

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