The Sotomayor Puzzle – The Ninth Justice

National Journal

From National Journal‘s July 18 issue:

As one who had hoped for a moderately liberal, intellectually honest nominee and feared the possibility of an unprincipled left-liberal ideologue steeped in identity politics, I am having trouble figuring out Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., captured my own puzzlement when he told Sotomayor on Tuesday that although her 17-year judicial record struck him as "left-of-center but within the mainstream, you have these speeches that just blow me away…. Who are we getting here?"

Graham was talking mainly about a succession of at least five very similar speeches between 1994 and 2003 in which Sotomayor appeared to glorify ethnic and gender identity repeatedly at the expense of the judicial obligation to be impartial and suggested that "a wise Latina woman" would be a better judge than "a white male."

In response to questions such as Graham’s, Sotomayor and her supporters have touted her judicial decisions as proof that she has been a solid, impartial judge.

They have a point. Sotomayor’s more than 3,000 mostly unremarkable rulings have not been ultra-liberal, have not displayed any broad pattern of bias in race or gender cases, and have closely followed precedent. Ordinarily, a judge’s record on the bench is the best guide to what she would do on the Supreme Court. She has also lived an admirable life.

But how persuasive were Sotomayor’s efforts to explain away those jarring speeches? I juxtapose excerpts from a typical speech — in October 2001, to an audience of Hispanic activists and others at the University of California (Berkeley) — with portions of her testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Continue reading the column here.