Sotomayor Doesn’t Deserve a Supreme Court Seat

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Posted: Jul 17, 2009 4:34 PM

Guest post from Ilya Shapiro

I don’t know if I would vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor if I were a senator, I really don’t.  Deciding how to vote on this is more than a simple matter of deciding whether she is “qualified” to sit on the Supreme Court—which is hard enough given there is no fixed qualification standard. 

It also has to include how much deference you want to give the president, in general terms but also taking into account that Sotomayor will likely be confirmed and you want to position yourself politically for the next nominee.  And it has to include, of course, how your constituents feel; while it’s cowardly to blindly follow opinion polls, you are accountable to those who sent you to Washington.  There are many other considerations, both political and legal.

But I’m not a senator—or even a senator’s aide—so I don’t have to make that decision.  As a constitutional lawyer, however, I can say that—even as most of Sotomayor’s opinions are uncontroversial—it is impossible to overlook the short thrift the judge gave to the judicial process in Ricci v. DeStefano and Didden v. Port Chester.  I am similarly hard-pressed to accept hearing-seat conversions that contradict over 15 years of speeches and articles: most notably against the idea that judges’ ethnic backgrounds—and even “physiological differences”—should affect their rulings.  Given Sotomayor’s repeated past rejection of the idea that law is or should be objective, stable, or discernable from written text, her inability this week to explain her judicial philosophy—or even state her position on important cases and issues beyond an acceptance of precedent (by which she would no longer be bound in her new role)—leaves me with an abiding concern about the damage she could do to the rule of law in this country.

And so, on second thought, I do know how I would vote.  I would respect the logic of Senator Arlen Specter, the Republican-turned-Democrat former judiciary committee chairman who at President Clinton’s impeachment trial curiously evoked Scottish law to vote “not proven.”  Given the impropriety of citing foreign law (another issue on which the nominee failed to explain her “conversion” in hearing testimony), I would vote that the case for confirming Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court is “not proven”—under American law.

Ilya Shapiro is Senior Fellow in Constitutional Studies and Editor-in-Chief, Cato Supreme Court Review