Political Diagnosis: The Supreme Court Edition

By Christine Cupaiuolo — May 29, 2009

For starters, read the OBOS interview with Georgetown University Law Professor Emma Coleman Jordan about Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination.

Coding Sonia Sotomayor: The New York Times today looks at Sotomayor’s direct and challenging questioning from the bench. Since we’re dealing with a female jurist, this is known as her “blunt and testy side.”

The story redeems itself — almost — by quoting Judge Guido Calabresi, a former dean of Yale Law School who taught Sotomayor there and now sits with her on the Second Circuit. He asserts that Sotomayor’s behavior was “identical” to other members of the 12-member court.

“Some lawyers just don’t like to be questioned by a woman,” Calabresi added. “It was sexist, plain and simple.”

During a discussion about the Times story on NPR’s “All Things Considered” this afternoon, EJ Dionne remarked that Justice Antonin Scalia is regarded as “sharp” and having “a sense of humor” for displaying the same aggressiveness. Funny how that happens.

Racist? Really?: Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, would prefer Republicans quit calling Sotomayor “racist,” as Rush Limbaugh and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have been prone to do.

“I think it’s terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent,” Cornyn told NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Thursday.

Now about former Rep. Tom Tancredo’s comments that Sotomayor’s membership in the National Council of La Raza, which bills itself as “the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States,” amounts to being part of “a Latino KKK” ….

Don’t Worry, Says White House: The White House went out of its way Thursday to address concerns that Sotomayor will uphold protections for a woman’s right to abortion. In her 17 years as a federal judge, Sotomayor has not dealt with constitutional questions about abortion, leaving little for groups on either side of the abortion debate to discuss.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said during a press briefing on Tuesday that Obama “did not ask that specifically” about Sotomayor’s views on abortion or privacy rights. That created some unease among pro-choice advocates.

On Thursday Gibbs attempted to explain, without going into detail, why the White House was so confident: “In their discussions, they talked about the theory of constitutional interpretation, generally, including her views on unenumerated rights in the Constitution and the theory of settled law,” Gibbs said. “He left very comfortable with her interpretation of the Constitution being similar to that of his.”

During a 2007 campaign debate, Obama said, “I would not appoint somebody who doesn’t believe in the right to privacy.”

We’ve had “stealth nominees” before — David Souter, who, to everyone’s surprise, ended up voting to uphold abortion rights.

The Washington Post, looking for outside sources on Sotomayor’s views, talked with one of Sotomayor’s former colleagues and a group OBOS works with regularly, Childbirth Connection:

In the few days since Sotomayor’s nomination, no record of her personal feelings on the issue have emerged; some former clerks say they do not remember discussing it with her. George Pavia, senior partner in the law firm that hired Sotomayor as a corporate litigator before her days on the bench, said he thinks that support of abortion rights would be in line with her generally liberal instincts.

“I can guarantee she’ll be for abortion rights,” Pavia said.

Also before she was a judge, Sotomayor served on the board of the Maternity Center Association, a Manhattan nonprofit group that focuses on improving maternity care for women.

Carol Sakala, director of programs for the organization (now called Childbirth Connection), said today that it “deals exclusively with women who want to carry their pregnancies to term” but has never taken a position on abortion. She said abortion has never come up at a board meeting in the more than 10 years she has worked there and is not discussed in her daily work.

“We have no reason to have a position on abortion. We aren’t involved in any manner with that issue,” Sakala said. “There’s no paper trail on it, because it’s not relevant to our work.”

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