Tuesday, May 05, 2009

On Obama's possible Supreme picks.

Greenwald has an excellent piece on Sonia Sotomayor (and as usual, rips Establishment media a new one for using anonymous sources in the process).

I know far, far less than he does about Sonia Sotomayor or about the relative fitness of judicial nominees for the job. I was far more qualified to talk about Sarah Palin and the attacks leveled at her for being an affirmative action hire, a pretty dumb chick whose appeal was solely prurient.

Rebecca Traister pointed out the obvious gender bias to the TNR piece in question, a bias that is only multiplied by her being of Puerto Rican descent, as Adam Serwer notes. She's bossy! She doesn't shut up! She's not that smart--Obama is prioritizing diversity! (The Clarence Thomas arguments, of course, are too obvious.)

When Bush nominated Harriet Miers for the Court, we heard similar arguments about her intellectual ability--and we didn't argue. When Sarah Palin got the Republican VP nomination, we giggled and made our own jokes. Now Obama's nominees will face the same kind of criticisms, ones that would never be leveled at a white guy up for the same job, and what do we say?

It's a double bind. We don't want to be unable to criticize female nominees or people of color (*cough cough* Gonzalez--or closer to home, Roland Burris) but we need to be consistent in noting the difference between substantive attacks and gender or racially motivated ones. It's entirely possible that Sonia Sotomayor is not the best choice for the Supreme Court, but I very much doubt that she's any less "smart" than Thomas, Alito, or any number of federal judges that the Right (or the nominal left as represented by TNR) would have no problem with--because they're white and male.

The fact is, when it comes to the Supreme Court, there are probably many lawyers and judges and law professors who would do as good or better jobs than the people already on there. There's no one best person for the job, and it's also fairly difficult to predict how justices will rule once confirmed (note that the retiring Souter was nominated by George H.W. Bush and became one of the reliable liberal members of the Court). So there's absolutely nothing wrong with picking a qualified justice who comes from a different ethnic and class background than the rest of the Court for the sake of diversity.