Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Label Dodging

I only watched portions of the Sotomayor confirmation. I was disappointed with what I saw. Al Franken praised Sotomayor as the most experienced candidate for the supreme court for the last century.

If she really was one of the greatest jurists in history; I would have expected both the hearings and the news stories about the hearings to be flush with conversations on legal theory.

I switched through various chanels. The commentators I saw on CNBC, MSNBC and CNN were talking about strategy of the getting their candidate past those horrible racist Republicans.

The strategy focus was odd as the Democrats have a super majority. The racist Republicans, who hadn't posted a Latino to a position higher than Attorney General, were pretty much vanquished from the political scene in 2008. The nomination process would have been an ideal time to talk up judicial philosophy.

Instead, the hearing seemed more about Democrats distancing themselves from judicial activism and distancing Sotomayor from Obama's comments about "empathy." I watched one Senator (perhaps it was Schummer) waste a great deal of time showing that Obama's statement on empathy did not play a major role in Sotomayor's career.

I would have been surprised if empathy was a primary theme of Sotomayor's career.

My guess is that the "empathy judge" comment didn't poll well.

Franken's performance was really bizarre. He opened with self-agrandisement about his oath to uphold the Constitution. He ended his speech with talk about rights that weren't in the Constitution. (Neither Reproductive Rights nor open acesss to the Internet are Constitutional rights.)

Franken doesn't seem to have a firm grasp on what the Supreme Court does.

Franken took a stab at rebranding the word "Activist Judge." His snide definition is an activist judge is one who "votes" differently than a politician wants. Franken enumerates activism by the number of times a judge overrules the legislature.

In the case of the Supreme Court, a judge is an activist based on his relation to the Constitution and existing precedence. A judge is not being an activist when it strikes down an unconstitutional law. For that matter a judge would be an activist if, for partisan ends, he failed to rule against an unconstitutional law.

The worst part of the hearing that I saw had Sotomayor pitted against a Republican senator. The Republican Senator was trying asking Sotomayor to give her opinion on a few terms like "constructivist" and "originalist."

I thought it was a great opening for the candidate to talk about different approaches to Constitutional law. Instead Sotomayor spoke about how she tried to avoid labels.

Sotomayor's answer really irked me as I believe a master of any given profession should have a good grasp of different approaches to the profession. The game of classifying and giving names to different approaches to a profession is quality reasoning.

The single minded focus on strategy in the confirmation hearing has me worried that Obama is simply dropping a partisan player in the court.

The Democrats have a supermajority. Obama ran on the promise to raise America to a new level of enlightened discourse. Yet watching a shoe-in nomination I simply felt that partisan players were trying to pull the wool over the collective eyes of the American people.

I learned very little about Sotomayor, beyond the facts that she loves Nancy Drew, loves Perry Mason and hates being labeled. The part of the nomination process I watched actually lowered my estimation of the Senate and Supreme Court.

No comments: