Jeffrey Rosen writes that Judge Sonia Sotomayor, one of the leading candidates to replace Justice David Souter is . . . how to put this gently? . . . not the swiftest Porsche in the judicial garage.
I am not sure how seriously to take this. On the one hand, Rosen states that “I haven’t read enough of Sotomayor’s opinions to have a confident sense of them, nor have I talked to enough of Sotomayor’s detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths.” He also relies almost exclusively on anonymous sources to back up the suggestion that Sotomayor does not bring all that much light against the intellectual darkness. This makes me look somewhat askance at his story.
On the other hand, the tales that are told concerning the state of Sotomayor’s brainpan are enough to cause concern. By Rosen’s account, she’s not very bright, has a history of non-bright behavior, gets faint praise, at best, concerning her intellect, and has a sense of self-regard that is entirely out of proportion to her talents. Give a personality like that life tenure on the Supreme Court, and the consequences could be . . . well . . . not good.
I suspect that much of the concern here revolves around the possibility that if she is elevated to the Court, Sotomayor would find herself utterly outmatched, intellectually, by the likes of Justices Scalia, Alito, and the Chief Justice himself. No one thinks this trio is thick, in any way, and the President’s allies want him to nominate a Justice who will be able to take the conservatives on intellectually, and win. If Sotomayor is judged not to be up to the task, and if the sentiment behind that judgment is widespread, then the disappointment will be palpable if she is indeed the nominee. The Obama Administration would, to put it bluntly, have its own Harriet Miers.
I don’t suspect that we will have a nominee for quite a while; the Administration will not want to leave a target hanging out in the public for opposition groups to pick apart. Rather, a nominee will be named much later and as close as possible to the beginning of the Court’s new term, so as to prevent opposition groups from being able to organize and focus their firepower on defeating that nominee. Perhaps we will see more of Sonia Sotomayor in the interim, and thus be better able to judge her smarts.