Ricci Case Reveals Sotomayor’s Judicial Temperament
The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire blog has dug up an audio recording of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals argument in the controversial reverse-discrimination case of Ricci v. DeStefano. The hour-long tape provides a revealing glimpse into Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s intellect, demeanor and attitude towards the lawyers arguing the case before her.
Meanwhile, the way The Journal characterizes Sotomayor is a perfect example of the media’s tendency to take her statements out of context.
According to the Journal, after the white firefighters’ lawyer explained that she was suing the mayor for comments he made backing the city’s Civil Service Board in throwing out the results of the promotional exam at issue in the case,
Judge Sotomayor snapped back: “Politicians every day get up in all types of fora and make what I consider the most ridiculous arguments, some of them illegal.” (The Catholic-school-educated judge clearly knew the Latin plural of “forum.”)
In fact, if you listen to the tape — [linked here](//online.wsj.com/public/resources/media/USCA1.mp3','wsjpopup','300','100','off',true,0,0,true);void('')) (first half) and [here](//online.wsj.com/public/resources/media/USCA2.mp3','wsjpopup','300','100','off',true,0,0,true);void('')) (second half) — it becomes clear that Sotomayor is politely but firmly questioning the lawyer about why she would sue the mayor for a decision made by the city’s Civil Service Board. The consequence of suing the mayor, Sotomayor explained, would be to hold elected officials accountable for all sorts of statements they make about matters over which they have no authority, which would be absurd (my word, not hers).
So when Sotomayor said “Politicians every day get up in all types of fora and make what I consider the most ridiculous arguments, some of them illegal,” she was actually defending the right of elected officials to do that — and we all know that they do — without being then held legally liable for them, as the firefighters’ lawyer was trying to do. In context, it’s actually a very reasonable statement that perfectly illuminates her point.
For the rest of the argument, as The Journal notes, Sotomayor is just as pointed in her questioning of the lawyer representing the city of New Haven, in whose favor the court ultimately ruled.
But it’s also striking that while her questioning is tough, it’s based on an impressive knowledge of both the factual record and the law, and a commanding but respectful demeanor towards both lawyers arguing the case.
Anyone still skeptical about Judge Sotomayor’s fairness or judicial temperament, which has been criticized in previous reports based on anonymous sources, should listen carefully to this recording.