Not So Wise

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has come under fire for the following controversial comment that she made in prepared remarks at the University of California-Berkeley.

“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.”

Both the Obama Administration and the nominee herself have said that the comments would have been better “restated.”  If by “restated” the Administration meant “repeated,” then the revelation that Sotomayor made nearly the exact same remark twice before and twice after the 2001 Berkeley speech would not be a surprise.  As it is, however, Sotomayor’s views on the role of gender and ethnicity in her judicial decision making process has never been in more doubt.
More trouble for Sotomayor has come to light recently as a result of her filing an incomplete Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire.  The White House boasted that Sotomayor turned in her questionnaire, “faster than any nominee in modern history,” just nine days since her nomination.  She may have wanted to hold onto it a bit longer. 

Sotomayor did not mention memorandum she signed as a member of a Puerto Rico Legal Defense Fund task force on the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York State in 1981.  In the memo, the group argues that the death penalty, “…is associated with evident racism in our society.”  Sotomayor, signature on the document is another indication of her apparently incessant and ingrained tendency to see race and ethnicity first, and facts second. 

Both the additional speeches and the omission of the memo underscore the decidedly unwise manner in which the Obama Administration, and Sotomayor herself, have handled the nomination, the nominee’s characterization of herself notwithstanding.  Whether the Administration did not anticipate the level of scrutiny that would be visited on its first Supreme Court nomination, or whether it is simply trying to rush the nomination through before all the facts can be ascertained is not known.  But questions about what the Administration knew and when about the speeches and the memo are now bound to be a feature of her confirmation hearing.  As are other as yet undiscovered controversies in Sotomayor’s professional career. 

With 59 Senators and a high personal approval rating, President Obama should have been able to drive Sotomayor’s nomination through the Senate with little or no question.  However, the Administration’s ham-handed attempts at crisis management, and it’s juvenile pursuit of some superfluous record has brought greater scrutiny on Sotomayor than otherwise may have been expected.  This has provided Republicans with an opportunity to define Sotomayor and President Obama at the confirmation hearings.  They should take full advantage of the Obama Administration’s missteps, and Sotomayor’s omission, to give her a thorough examination.

Cross Posted at Mark on the Right.