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Conservatives attack Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor's background

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

ON PAPER, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor resembles one of her would-be colleagues on the high court: Princeton undergrad, Yale Law School, an editor on the Yale Law Journal, experience as a prosecutor and years of service on the federal bench.

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Yet Judge Sotomayor, President Obama's pick to replace retiring Justice David H. Souter, is not being compared by some conservatives to Princeton/Yale alum Samuel A. Alito Jr., widely acclaimed as smart and qualified when he was nominated. Instead, they are trying to peg her as "President Obama's Harriet Miers," after the nominee of President George W. Bush who took herself out of contention as conservatives savaged her reputation and raised doubts about whether she was smart enough for the job.

Why is that? After all, Judge Sotomayor boasts the very qualifications that these conservatives claimed Ms. Miers lacked. Ms. Miers was in part lambasted by conservatives -- unfairly, we noted at the time -- because she did not meet the now-cliched criteria of graduation from elite schools and experience as a judge. Judge Sotomayor's educational pedigree is top-notch, and she served six years on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York before spending the past 11 years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

Ms. Miers, conservative critics complained, lacked a substantial paper trail, leading some to worry about whether she was more liberal than her record let on. Judge Sotomayor can't be tagged as a stealth candidate, given her two-decade track record of opinions on topics as varied as immigration, eminent domain, corporate law and the First Amendment.

Because it is difficult to dismiss her academic credentials and her professional experience, some on the right have resorted to the politics of personal destruction. Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice said in a radio interview that Judge Sotomayor was picked because "she's a woman and Hispanic, not because she was the best qualified." Former congressman Tom Tancredo sank to even greater depths when he called Judge Sotomayor a "racist" for her past affiliation with the Hispanic advocacy group, the National Council of La Raza; Mr. Tancredo called La Raza "a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses." Former Bush adviser Karl Rove implicitly questioned Judge Sotomayor's intelligence, saying in an interview with PBS host Charlie Rose that "I know lots of stupid people who went to Ivy League schools." No doubt, but would Mr. Rove have said the same thing in connection with Justice Alito?

There are plenty of lines of inquiry that should be explored to better discern Judge Sotomayor's qualifications and judicial philosophy. We look forward to a vigorous debate about Judge Sotomayor's more controversial and consequential cases. We would like to hear more from Judge Sotomayor on how gender and ethnicity might help -- as she put it -- a "wise Latina" judge come to a "better" conclusion in some cases than a white, male jurist. (The president recently said Judge Sotomayor regretted her choice of words.) Above all, we'd welcome a confirmation process that sets aside rancid stereotypes and sexist assumptions in order to explore the record and philosophy of a woman whose work could affect the country for some time to come.

Do you have a different view of this issue? Debate a member of the editorial board today in the Editorial Judgment discussion group.


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