Sonia Sotomayor seems in many ways like exactly the sort of person Barack Obama would appoint to the Supreme Court. She was born to a working class Puerto Rican family in the South Bronx, and went from Cardinal Spelling High School to Princeton and Yale Law. She worked as an Assistant District Attorney and then went into private practice. George H.W. Bush nominated her for a seat on the Federal District Court, and Bill Clinton elevated her to a Circuit Court. In other words, she’s well-qualified, her work has managed to gain the respect of Republicans, and she’s had a more interesting range of life experiences than your typical Yale Law graduate.
That said, it is the case that the one person I ever seriously discussed this issue with expressed to me the view that Sotomayor doesn’t have the “intellectual firepower” of some other possible nominees and that it would be nice to see someone more impressively brilliant. This isn’t something I’ve written about up until now because:
- I’ve never spoken to Judge Sotomayor.
- I haven’t studied Judge Sotomayor’s opinions.
- You don’t see a lot of dumb kids growing up in the South Bronx and winding up at Princeton.
- So it struck me as wrong to run with an anonymous disparaging remark in the absence of actual evidence.
But apparently Jeffrey Rosen doesn’t roll that way, since he has a piece in The New Republic featuring various unnamed people making exactly this argument. I’d say the money quote comes in the final graf of the piece:
I haven’t read enough of Sotomayor’s opinions to have a confident sense of them, nor have I talked to enough of Sotomayor’s detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths.
Really it seems to me that when you see a person who appears to be qualified in all the normal ways, you owe that person a presumption that she’s up to the job. 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. Maybe we should make the two of them both take IQ tests or something?