When the media began floating Circuit Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor as a possible Supreme Court nominee, one of the first comprehensive articles to come out was a piece by Jeffrey Rosen in The New Republic. In the piece, Rosen allowed unnamed sources to attack Sotomayor as “not that smart” and lacking “penetrating” questions on the bench.
Many conservatives are now making this argument one of their principal lines of attack against Sotomayor’s nomination. This morning on WTOP, Curt Levey, executive director of the right-wing Committee for Justice, compared Sotomayor to Harriet Miers:
I would point you to the Harriet Miers nomination under the second President Bush. She was also many people felt and intellectual lightweight, picked because she was a woman, people felt. And even though Republicans controlled the senate, she ultimately had to withdraw. And that could happen here. This is someone who clearly was picked because she’s a woman and Hispanic, not because she was the best qualified. I could certainly see red and purple state Democrats gawking at it and she may very well have to withdraw her nomination.
Similarly, over at the National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru calls Sotomayor “Obama’s Harriet Miers.” This morning on Fox News, Karl Rove questioned whether she was smart enough to be on the Supreme Court. “I’m not really certain how intellectually strong she would be, she has not been very strong on the second circuit,” he said. Citing Rosen, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes said that Sotomayor was “not the smartest.” Watch a compilation:
These attacks started even before Sotomayor was named. The National Review’s Mark Hemingway earlier said that Sotomayor was “dumb and obnoxious.”
But as even Fox News’s Megyn Kelly admitted this morning, Sotomayor’s credentials are “impressive by almost any standard.” In fact, at the ceremony announcing Sotomayor this morning, Obama said that her legal and academic achievements were the most important factors in his decision to nominate her:
While there are many qualities that I admire in judges across the spectrum of judicial philosophy and that I seek in my own nominees, there are a few that stand out that I just want to mention. First and foremost is a rigorous intellect, a mastery of the law, and an ability to hone in on the key issues and provide clear answers to complex legal questions. Second is a recognition of the limits of the judicial role, and an understanding that a judge’s job is to interpret, not make law. To approach decisions without any particular ideology or agenda, but rather a commitment to impartial justice, a respect for precedent, and a determination to faithfully apply the law to the facts at hand.
Coming from a housing project in the Bronx, Sotomayor ended up graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton. She also was a co-recipient of the M. Taylor Pyne Prize, the highest honor Princeton awards to an undergraduate. Sotomayor then went to Yale Law School, where she served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal and managing editor of the Yale Studies in World Public Order. Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) said on Fox News this morning that of all the nominees, Sotomayor “brings the most in terms of judicial experience — in terms of serving on a federal court — in 100 years.”
SCOTUS Blog has pointed out that women and minority candidates for the Supreme Court are often portrayed as not being smart enough for the job. As Matt Yglesias has also written, underscoring this point, “I recall a lot of issues being raised during the Samuel Alito confirmation fight, but at that time I don’t remember anyone raising questions about the intelligence of a Princeton/Yale Law graduate who’d done time on an Appeals Court.”
At the Weekly Standard, Michael Goldfarb writes, “[O]n the issue of diversity, Obama seems to have the views of a 21-year-old Hispanic girl — that is, only by having a black president, an Hispanic justice, a female secretary of State, and Bozo the Clown as vice president will the United States become a true ‘vanguard of societal ideas and changes.’”