Sotomayor Dodges Judicial Philosophy Questions

Sotomayor Dodges Judicial Philosophy Questions July 20, 2009

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”.

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