So President Barack Obama has nominated a liberal woman judge to replace Supreme Court Justice David Souter on the nation’s highest court. Clearly no surprise there. A careful analysis of Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s judicial record will follow in a few days, but first, allow me to offer comment on yesterday’s public event at the White House at which the president formally announced his choice of Judge Sotomayor.
One of the first interesting things to note was the presence, for no apparent reason, of Vice President Joe Biden at the ceremony. Importantly, the veep said nothing audible to those present, and if the president and his staff are smart, they will do everything in their power to keep Biden from saying anything about the judge and the confirmation process until she is sworn in, robed, and ensconced in her office in the Supreme Court Building.
The president’s remarks in introducing Sotomayor were remarkable for what they did not say as well as for what he emphasized. Completely lacking was any reference, other than in passing, to the criteria most important for a nominee to sit on the High Court. The president’s remarks contained nothing about the judge’s views of such vitally important matters as will certainly color her decisions as a Supreme Court Justice if confirmed — her understanding of the Constitution, of the concepts of separation of powers and limited powers, and of judicial limits, were left unmentioned.
What we did discover in the president’s effusive introductory comments is that Judge Sotomayor had a tough childhood in the Bronx, has a wonderful mother, has had a solid career in the practice of the law, read “Nancy Drew” mysteries as a child, suffers from diabetes, and has a “common touch.” All this is perhaps interesting, and might even be of passing relevance were the president introducing the new secretary of health and human services. But these bits of information — other than discussion of the nominee’s legal career — are irrelevant (or ought to be) in determining whether a person is fit to serve on the highest court in the land.
The president attempted somewhat awkwardly to interject humor into what should have been a serious event; referencing baseball twice — first in referring to Judge Sotomayor’s role in a case involving the 1994-95 Major League Baseball strike, and then drawing attention to the fact she grew up near Yankee stadium in the Bronx. Again, information utterly irrelevant to what should have been the task at hand.
All this was followed by an admonition by Obama that the Senate conclude the confirmation process before its summer recess. The implied message is, why take time to uncover additional information or analyze Judge Sotomayor’s prior works, when the president has told us everything he believes is important in selecting a Supreme Court justice.
Except, of course — we haven’t been told even close to what we need to know to decide whether Judge Sonia Sotomayor is truly and fully qualified in intellect, temperment and understanding of the law to serve on the Supreme Court for the remainder of her life, and to pass judgement on perhaps the most intimate aspects of our life in America. We have been told, quite irrelevantly, that she is possessed of “empathy” for the “poor.” What we don’t know yet is whether her empathy with the Constitution is as profound.