January 14 2013
Is Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Predictable?
The Washington Post has a profile of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor that is pegged to her new book and that is quite moving in parts. Sotomayor was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of seven and decided then and there that she had to depend on herself to treat the disease:
So along with the morning routine of getting breakfast and brushing her teeth, she’d pull a chair up to the stove and boil water to sterilize a syringe and needle, measure carefully, and inject herself before leaving her South Bronx apartment for school.
Despite living in a New York borough, Sotomayor, 58, did not set foot in Manhattan until she was in high school. Her parents spoke Spanish at home, and her alcoholic father died when she was quite young. She attributes her admission to Princeton to affirmative action and reportedly tells how hard she had to work to catch up with students from more privileged backgrounds. She bought grammar and vocabulary books and worked on them during her lunch hour while working in the summer. This is inspiring stuff.
But then we get to a troubling anecdote:
Later, at Yale, a recruiter for a high-profile Washington law firm told Sotomayor that the problem with affirmative action was that “you have to wait to find out whether the person is qualified.”
Sotomayor filed a complaint, and the resulting controversy nearly led to the firm being disinvited to interview at the law school.
Wait a minute here—somebody expresses an opinion about affirmative action that differs from Sotomayor’s. So she files a complaint and nearly causes the recruiter’s law firm to be disinvited from recruiting on the Yale campus?
What the recruiter said was likely based on experiences at the firm in question. In a way, Sotomayor’s own experiences justify the recruiter’s remarks. She wasn’t as prepared as students who got in without the benefit of affirmative action. To her credit, Sotomayor, who graduated with top honors, did what was necessary to succeed. Not everybody is as hardworking and determined as Sotomayor. Some get in tough environments and sink, whereas they might have prospered in a different academic setting. Moreover, we all should have the right to hold different views.
And here is a passage in the profile that simply doesn’t ring true:
The book does not deal with her three years on the Supreme Court — she warns readers not to try to divine how her personal views inform her jurisprudence [my itals]— and tells the story of her life only until her appointment to the federal bench 20 years ago.
But Sotomayor was appointed because of her personal experiences and personal views. President Obama regards “empathy,” which he apparently thinks can come only from a disadvantaged background, as a reason to appoint somebody to the high court. And Sotomayor’s infamous “wise Latina” remark indicates that her personal views do play a role in decisions—and that she regards herself as having superior insights. On some issues, anybody can divine with reasonable accuracy how Justice Sotomayor will rule.