June 24, 2009
By Carey Roberts
Supreme Court opinions are words for the generations that can affect the lives and welfare of millions. No one doubts that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has a compelling life story. But more to the point, we need to inquire about her aptitude to draft thoughtfully-reasoned, well-crafted legal opinions.
On this count, there is reason for worry.
Sotomayor herself has admitted, "Writing remains a challenge for me even today...I am not a natural writer." Reporter Stephanie Mencimer has characterized Sotomayor's legal opinions as "good punishment for law students who show up late for class."
A cursory pass of Sotomayor's writings reveals them to be clumsy to the point of being impenetrable. This comes from her "wise Latina" speech: "I also hope that by raising the question today of what difference having more Latinos and Latinas on the bench will make will start your own evaluation."
So exactly what does "start your own evaluation" mean?
And this ringing — but ungrammatical — declamation: "Other simply do not care." Maybe it's acceptable to drop the final 's' in Spanish, but not in English.
Then there's the time Sotomayor referred to a chirping insect as "Jimmy the Cricket" — with no apologies to "Jiminy Cricket." That malapropism triggered a summer reading assignment for the future Supreme Court nominee to immerse herself in a round of children's classics.
When it comes to Spanish grammar, Sotomayor doesn't have a clue. In a 1996 speech she uttered this blooper, "in Spanish we do not have adjectives. A noun is described with a preposition."
There is in fact a good Spanish adjective for such an off-key statement: "absurdo."
(For the compulsive linguists in the room, Sotomayor's name comes from a combination of the words soto ("thicket") and mayor ("greater"). Mayor is the adjective that modifies the noun soto. So Sotomayor means "greater thicket.")
Most telling is a person's ability to think analytically and reason logically, as revealed in a jurist's ability to write well. Here again, Sotomayor's nomination raises eyebrows.
Ms. Sotomayor has asserted her Latino heritage makes her a better, "wiser" judge. So see if you can follow this obtuse legal argument:
"For me, a very special part of my being Latina is the mucho platos de arroz, gandoles y pernir — rice, beans and pork....My Latina identity also includes, because of my particularly adventurous taste buds, morcilla, — pig intestines — patitas de cerdo con garbanzo — pigs' feet with beans, and la lengua y orejas de cuchifrito, pigs' tongue and ears."
So let's get the word out to our nation's jurists, Consuming swine guts makes you a more discerning and compassionate judge!
And when Sotomayor was asked to defend her membership in the all-female Belizean Grove, she rendered this risible verdict: "to the best of my knowledge, a man has never been asked to be considered for membership."
In a 1986 interview on Good Morning America, Sotomayor railed against the sex discrimination she allegedly had encountered. Want proof? "And if you're a male that grew up professionally in a male-dominated profession, then your image of what a good lawyer is a male image."
That's right, discrimination has nothing to do with the actions you may commit, it's clinging to a politically-incorrect "male image."
The real problem, of course, has nothing to do with one's image of being a good lawyer. The concern is the extent to which the affirmative action mindset has permeated our society, watering down standards and discriminating against more qualified applicants. "I am a product of affirmative action," Sonia Sotomayor boasted in a 1994 interview. "I am the perfect affirmative action baby."
During her now-famous address at the University of California School of Law, Judge Sotomayor concluded in her rambling, nearly incoherent prose:
"There is always a danger embedded in relative morality, but since judging is a series of choices that we must make, that I am forced to make, I hope that I can make them by informing myself on the questions I must not avoid asking and continuously pondering. We, I mean all of us in this room, must continue individually and in voices united in organizations that have supported this conference, to think about these questions and to figure out how we go about creating the opportunity for there to be more women and people of color on the bench so we can finally have statistically significant numbers to measure the differences we will and are making."
If the Senate confirms Sonia Sotomayor next month, it will be only a matter of time until such sentiments begin to make their way into the legal opinions handed down from the High Court.
© Carey Roberts