Sotomayor's "Life Experience"

Posted: May 26, 2009 11:05 AM

Crosslisted at TH SCOTUS Watch

The Obama administration and the media have quickly developed a narrative concerning Sonia Sotomayor: she's a down-to-earth hardened justice who "cares about the people." The Sotomayor story is not about her being an intellectual heavyweight, or about her fully-formed legal philosophy; it is about her as a down-to-earth judge who will, like Obama, be "pragmatic" in her decisions rather than subscribe to any certain legal guidelines. Obama, in the announcement press conference, quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes in saying,

The life of the law is not logic, but experience, according to former justice Oliver Wendell Holmes...a understanding of how the law works.

And, of course, as Carol noted below, Sotomayor herself believes that life experience, rather than prudent judicial reasoning, should lead a judge's thought process:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

In picking Sotomayor, Obama would like us to think that legal philosophy is subservient to life experience. This is an attempt to frame a Supreme Court nominee's qualifications not with a reference point of legal philosophy, but another misguided overreach for Obama's worldview of "pragmatism."