Sunday, July 19, 2009
AFTER FOUR days of often intense confirmation hearings, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor proved herself well-qualified and worthy of confirmation. The breadth and depth of her experience as a prosecutor, civil litigator, trial judge and appeals court judge were on display throughout the lengthy proceedings, whether she was addressing questions about corporate law, the Second Amendment or criminal matters. Her stated fidelity to the law is documented in thousands of cases in which no hint is found of the "identity politics" critics fear she would bring to the high court to push results not sanctioned by the law.
She spoke convincingly about her belief in and record of consistently respecting legislative prerogatives -- an approach that signals a modest style of judging. Notable conservatives such as former solicitor general and appeals judge Kenneth W. Starr and Louis J. Freeh, the former FBI director and one-time Sotomayor colleague on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, vouch for her credentials and character.
Much of the four-day hearing was focused on Judge Sotomayor's controversial speeches, particularly those in which she proclaimed that a wise Latina woman, because of the richness of her experience, should be able to make better decisions than a white male. Judge Sotomayor's attempts to explain away and distance herself from that statement were unconvincing and at times uncomfortably close to disingenuous, especially when she argued that her reason for raising questions about gender or race was to warn against injecting personal biases into the judicial process. Her repeated and lengthy speeches on the matter do not support that interpretation.
It's too bad that she felt she had to disavow her true intent, because, though a wise Latina won't necessarily judge better than a white man would, diversity on the bench is indeed important. Judge Sotomayor's rise from modest beginnings in the Bronx to almost certainly become the first Hispanic justice is testament to her intelligence, fortitude and perseverance and should serve as inspiration to all Americans. And life experiences do matter in fairly and thoroughly assessing different situations -- from the impact of regulation on business to the effect of a strip search on a 13-year-old girl to the damage done by discrimination in all facets of life. The key -- as Judge Sotomayor explained and seems to have demonstrated in her life's work -- is never to allow personal prejudices or preferences to trump the clear commands of the law.
In calling for the confirmation of John G. Roberts Jr. as chief justice in 2005 and urging Democrats to support President George W. Bush's nominee, we noted that then-Judge Roberts possessed "professional qualifications of the highest caliber, a modest conception of the judicial function . . . [and] a strong belief in the stability of precedent." The same can be said of Judge Sotomayor, who likewise deserves widespread support.