Thursday, July 16, 2009

Peanut Gallery, Legal Edition

In a sense, all political bloggers are just groundlings (myself included) lobbing various internet produce at the Beltway denizens (and each other!) But it's interesting to see that whenever conservatives blow it on some culture war skirmish by taking the slimy route and losing great Antarctic ice shelf sized portions of the populace, the advice from the various Waldorfs and Statlers on the right side of the theater is always "You didn't slime hard enough!"

Case in point: Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee all but threw in the towel today on fighting the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, despite starting out Monday by signaling some pretty strong attack postures. Tuesday's attacks went nowhere despite the very real effort to portray Sotomayor as the most biased person in the room, and by the time Wednesday's assault on her character came, they were nothing more than toothless blows. By the time the proceedings wrapped up today, the deal was done as the attacks had slid into the land of farce.

But the folks on the Right were quite miffed at the milquetoast performance of their GOP stalwarts, and offered their own advice on how they would have "won". Byron York opined this morning:
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are down to their last chance to make the case that there are serious questions about Sonia Sotomayor's fitness for the Supreme Court. One of the things they will do is stress a subject they have inexplicably downplayed so far: Sotomayor's 12 years of service on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education fund.

In the her first two days of testimony, Sotomayor appeared reluctant do discuss her time with PRLDEF (commonly referred to as "Pearl-Def"). When questioned about it by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham on Tuesday, she minimized her role in the organization, especially when Graham asked about a PRLDEF lawsuit that compared the denial of taxpayer-funded abortions to slavery.
It would make sense that a Puerto Rican litigator with such a strong record would be asked to serve on PRLDEF's board. York sees something far more sinister and complains:
The reason Sotomayor's work at PRLDEF is important, Republicans say, is that it shows a period in her career in which she put into action the ideas she expressed in her "wise Latina" and other speeches. At PRLDEF, Sotomayor was a liberal activist, not the careful, conservative, law-bound judge she has portrayed herself to be at her hearing. Her PRLDEF years -- she left the group when she became a federal judge in 1992 -- show a different Sonia Sotomayor than the one sitting before the committee.

Why didn't Republicans explore the PRLDEF connection more thoroughly? No one seems to know. There are seven GOP senators on the committee. Each is experienced, and each has his own areas of interest. They do not coordinate their questioning with one another. So several of them spent a great deal of time discussing the "wise Latina" speech without spending much time on how Sotomayor's world view translated into action in her career. In some ways, Sotomayor's time at PRLDEF is the link between her personal views and her legal work. A close exploration of her PRLDEF years could help explain, for example, why she gave such short shrift to the Ricci case, in which she summarily denied the rights of a group of white firefighters who had earned promotions in a testing situation reminiscent of the ones PRLDEF and Sotomayor had challenged in the past.
But how many federal judges and eventual Supreme Court judges (and Senators for that matter) served as board members of advocacy groups, non-profit charities, trade groups, legal groups, or even the boards of Fortune 1000 companies at some point in their distinguished careers? Furthermore, any judge at that level spent years if not decades as a litigator: either a prosecutor or as a private defense attorney or public defender. York's line of attack that work or school experience equates to a pattern of bias would open up about 99% of Washington to the same charges. So, no...sitting U.S. Senators weren't about to open that can of worms...especially not Jeff Sessions (although he did try.)

Jennifer Rubin on the other hand decided more...personal...attacks on Sotomayor were in order ala Jeffrey Rosen's hit piece that got this little party started back in May. Despite Double G stomping Rosen's disingenous and sloppy attack into the dirt, Rosen then making arguably the worst apology on record, and then Double G stomping his ass again, somehow Rubin comes back to the tattered, smoking remains of Rosen's professional dignity, sees it lying on the floor in a twisted and burned heap, and decides that somehow it is a solid foundation from which to build her glass house upon, climb into said house and then launch stones from.
Whether examining her verbal skills, her command of the law or her intellectual acuity, I come away thinking she is one of the least impressive Supreme Court nominees to come along in recent memory. Judge Robert Bork was obviously not everyone’s ideal judge, but the man’s intellectual prowess was undeniable and he refused to lie about his views. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was frankly charming and sharp-witted in her testimony and could march the senators through the evolution of a number of strains of jurisprudence.

Whether you agreed with their philosophy or not, you had the sense with the Clinton, Reagan, and George W. Bush nominees (yes, I leave Souter off the list) that there was good reason to put them on the Court. You listened for a day or even and hour and said, “Yes, that’s a Supreme Court Justice.” It was hard to dispute, even if you disagreed with one or another on his or her judicial methodology, that the nominee was bringing some intellectual heft.

Does anyone really have that sense from Sotomayor? And all of this is made worse, much worse, by her ham-handed efforts to distance herself from her own speeches and deny her own involvement with PRLDEF.

Rosen was trying to warn his liberal compatriots that they could do “better” than Sotomayor. He was right and should get some credit for his effort. Imagine if Diane Wood or Kathleen Sullivan, both liberal in philosophy but undeniably impressive, had been up there over the last couple of days. I suspect that conservatives would have been staring at their shoes, struggling for reasons to say “no” and grudgingly acknowledging that the nominee was going to add something to the Court beyond her gender.

Has she just not heard of Harriet Miers? Honestly? She goes out of her way to call Sotomayor "one of the least impressive Supreme Court nominees to come along in recent memory" and then mentions Bush, and goes out of her way to exclude Souter...but skips Harriet Miers completely?

That's not only intellectually bankrupt as far as a review of the last 15 years of Supreme Court nominations, but downright negligent. There have only been four nominees since 1994, all of them in the last four years, and she thinks Sotomayor is one of the least impressive in recent memory?

Please. Her resume's work record dwarfs pretty much all of the existing Supreme Court, especially as a litigator. Reaching to throw that stone at Sotomayor, Rubin instead drops it on her foot and it goes smashing through that glass house.

Remember the Five D's. We're well into Dehumanize and Demonize territory here...but so far they've been unable to Destroy her.

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