You can’t judge a judge by her cover.
Despite the best efforts of Republicans to root out any sign that Sonia Sotomayor has emotions that color her views on the law, the Bronx Bomber kept a robotic mask in place.
A wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not know that a gaggle of white Republican men afraid of extinction are out to trip her up.
After all, these guys have never needed to speak inspirational words to others like them, as Sotomayor has done. They’ve had codes, handshakes and clubs to do that.
So when Republican Senator Jon Kyl, without so much as a howdy-do, went at Sotomayor, and soon was asking her if she agreed with Barack Obama’s contention, when he voted against John Roberts, that a judge’s heart is important, the would-be justice was as adroit as her idol Nancy Drew.
“No, sir,” she said, indicating that the only bleeding-heart thing about her was the color of her jacket. She added that “it’s not the heart that compels conclusions in cases. It’s the law.”
President Obama wants Sotomayor, naturally, to bring a fresh perspective to the court. It was a disgrace that W. appointed two white men to a court stocked with white men. And Sotomayor made it clear that she provides some spicy seasoning to a bench when she said in a speech: “I simply do not know exactly what the difference will be in my judging, but I accept there will be some based on gender and my Latina heritage.”
The judge’s full retreat from the notion that a different life experience is valuable was more than necessary and somewhat disappointing. But, as any clever job applicant knows, you must obscure as well as reveal, so she sidestepped the dreaded empathy questions — even though that’s why the president wants her.
“We apply law to facts,” she told Kyl. “We don’t apply feelings to facts.”
She even used a flat tone when talking about the “horrific tragedy” of 9/11, when she was living near the World Trade Center. And she was mechanical in explaining to a grumpy Senator Orrin Hatch that banning nunchaku sticks did not dent the Second Amendment because the martial-arts weapons’ swing “can bust someone’s skull.”
Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer gamely tried to make the judge seem even more coldhearted. Recalling the sad plight of poor families from the Bronx who sued T.W.A. after a jet crashed off Long Island in 1996, he quoted the Bronx jurist’s dispassionate dissent: “The appropriate remedial scheme for deaths occurring off the United States coast is clearly a legislative policy choice, which should not be made by the courts.”
Schumer also cited the case of an African-American woman who filed suit after being denied a home-equity loan, even after the loan application was conditionally approved based on her credit report.
Sonia Legree ruled that the woman’s claim was filed too late, the same argument that the Supremes used on Lilly Ledbetter when she belatedly learned that her male coworkers were much better paid. President Obama has cited the Ledbetter decision as a reason the court needs a more “common touch.”
“The law requires some finality,” Sotomayor explained about her case, with an iciness that must have sent a chill up the conservative leg of Alabama’s Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, even as it left Obama hanging out on an empathy limb.
Republican Lindsey Graham read Sotomayor some anonymous comments made by lawyers about her, complaining that she was “temperamental,” “nasty,” “a bit of a bully.” Then he patronizingly lectured her about how this was the moment for “self-reflection.” Maybe Graham thinks Nino Scalia has those traits covered.
But the barbed adjectives didn’t match the muted performance on display before the Judiciary Committee. Like the president who picked her, Sotomayor has been a model of professorial rationality. Besides, it’s delicious watching Republicans go after Democrats for being too emotional and irrational given the G.O.P. shame spiral.
W. and Dick Cheney made all their bad decisions about Iraq, W.M.D.’s, domestic surveillance, torture, rendition and secret hit squads from the gut, based on false intuitions, fear, paranoia and revenge.
Sarah Palin is the definition of irrational, a volatile and scattered country-music queen without the music. Her Republican fans defend her lack of application and intellect, happy to settle for her emotional electricity.
Senator Graham said Sotomayor would be confirmed unless she had “a meltdown” — a word applied mostly to women and toddlers until Mark Sanford proudly took ownership of it when he was judged about the wisdom of his Latina woman.
And then there’s the Supreme Court, of course, which gave up its claim to rational neutrality when the justices appointed by Republican presidents — including Bush Sr. — ignored what was fair to make a sentimental choice and throw the 2000 election to W.
Faced with that warped case of supreme empathy, no wonder Sotomayor is so eager to follow the law.