Sotomayor Dodges Judicial Philosophy Questions

Clive Crook wanted more from Sotomayor and thinks she got off easy on the most crucial questions:

It seemed to me she did not so much clarify the liberal-sounding speeches and remarks (“wise Latina woman” and so on) that have so preoccupied her critics as simply retract them. And both sides let her do it. In my mind, these serial disavowals kept raising the question: well, what does she actually believe?Again and again when substantive issues were posed, her answer was the same: “Congress makes the laws. The job of a judge is to apply the law.” Oh please. “The law”, as she repeatedly observed, embodies precedent. So when the court laid down those precedents, it was making law on her own definition, was it not? This is not a conservative v liberal thing. Supreme Court justices, conservatives and liberals alike, make law. The worrying thing is that they increasingly strive to make different politically-freighted laws, and have settled into a pattern of closely split decisions along predictable ideological lines. If she was asked about that, I missed it.

Moreover, there are only nine Supreme Court justices and they sit for decades. If confirmed, the unelected and unaccountable Sonia Sotomayor will be a more powerful lawmaker than any of the senators who questioned her. We think we know from her speeches what she thinks about various policies she will be asked to rule on, but this week she wasn’t telling, and out of a misguided sense of judicial propriety the senators failed to insist.

On points of substance, almost her entire testimony could have been delivered by John Roberts or Samuel Alito. With names and personal reminiscences redacted, who could tell the difference? It will be interesting to see how often Sotomayor is on the other side of a 5-4 decision from them, despite their purportedly identical “judicial philosophies”.

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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