Sonia Sotomayor is intelligent.
She is qualified.
And if I were Senator in the United States Senate, I would vote in favor of her confirmation.
But I completely disagree with President Obama’s decision to nominate her for the Supreme Court.
There’s been a bit of controversy over what qualifies someone to be on the Supreme Court. Should a Justice be empathetic to those affected by the law? Does one’s life experience impact the way they perceive legal issues? Is the diversification of the court an important goal?
On all three of these issues, I side with majority of liberals who emphatically say yes . Diversity is important, personal experience is relevant and empathy is fundamental to the interpretation of law. But all of this misses the most fundamental point. The most important qualification in selecting a Supreme Court justice is a sharp intellectual acumen.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Sotomayor is probably a very smart woman. Easily smarter than I am. But we’re not judging Sotomayor relative to a lay person. We’re judging her relative to the best of the best in all of the legal kingdom. This includes Academia, Government, and the judiciary. Has anyone, supporter or critic, ever made the argument that Sotomayor is one of the leading legal minds in her field? Has anyone ever lauded her for her amazing intellect? The answer to both these questions is a no. In fact, if you had a five minute conversation about all of the things that make Sonia Sotomayor a good judge, the words sharp legal mind would never come up once. And this is where my problem with her begins.
Sotomayor’s leading intellectual accomplishment thus far, seems to have been putting together a impressive resume. Congratulations, you were smart in college thirty years ago. What did you do with that intellect in the real world? Did you fight for bold ideas like Pamela Karlan? Did you make yourself into a renowned and respected legal mind like Elena Kagan? As a judge were you an outspoken defender of progressive rights like Diane Wood? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding no. The sad truth is that despite all the trail blazing Sotomayor has done in her personal life, she’s done very little trail blazing in the legal field.
At a certain point a disconnect forms between an impressive resume and an impressive career. Some people have one, but not the other. And every sign I’ve seen thus far points to Sotomayor having the former but not the later.
Does this mean Sotomayor will be a poor Supreme Court Justice? Not at all. Throughout her career she’s proven herself to be a very competent judge with a thorough underunderstanding of the law. But lets not kid ourselves here. Supreme Court appointees have life time terms. and there’s only nine of them. We never know when the next one will retire, or god forbid unexpectedly die. That is why its of the utmost importance to make every pick count. To aim for the fences with every swing, as if this person will be your only chance to shape the makeup of the most important court in the world. Because the truth is, it might.