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Tilting at Windmills

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May 26, 2009

ATTACKING SOTOMAYOR'S INTELLECT.... Attacking Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor for being insufficiently right-wing makes perfect sense. Attacking her intelligence is not only ridiculous, it's offensive.

Sotomayor, a lower-court nominee of both the H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations, has a background that should shield her from such nonsense: top of her class at Princeton, Yale Law School (editor of the Yale Law Journal), successful big-city prosecutor, corporate litigator, trial judge, district court judge, appeals court judge. She's earned the respect and admiration of her clerks, colleagues, and the lawyers who've argued before her. Sotomayor's intellect is not in doubt.

And yet, it's the issue some of the far-right's leading activists have decided to hang their hat on.

This morning on Fox News, Karl Rove questioned whether she was smart enough to be on the Supreme Court. "I'm not really certain how intellectually strong she would be, she has not been very strong on the second circuit," he said. Citing Rosen, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes said that Sotomayor was "not the smartest."

This is, alas, not new. Two of the guys on the National Review's crew said Sotomayor is "dumb." In a now-infamous piece, Jeffrey Rosen quoted unnamed sources arguing that the judge is "not that smart." This morning, Curt Levey, executive director of the right-wing Committee for Justice, said Harriet Miers was an "intellectual lightweight" -- and Sotomayor is like Miers.

Adam Serwer noted, "[T]he subtext of such arguments, which any person of color in the Ivy League has faced, is that people of color who accomplish anything resembling success are simply the undeserving recipients of preferential treatment. Note that this line of argument was raised against the president of the United States, and persisted among the right for some time. Isn't it a funny coincidence that all accomplished people of color are secretly dumb?"

I'd just add that if Rove, Barnes, Levey and their conservative cohorts -- a group that is in no position to question anyone's intellectual prowess -- have legitimate evidence to back up these doubts about the judge, they should present it. Otherwise, this entire line of attack is cheap and insulting.

Steve Benen 2:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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Comments

Criticizing her intelligence also misses the point of that critique. Rosen was trying to argue for a 'better' liberal combatant to take on the conservatives. Wouldn't the conservatives be happy if there were a dumb nominee?

Posted by: Jerome on May 26, 2009 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Barnes himself is quite stupid.

Posted by: in vino veritas on May 26, 2009 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Jonathan Turley on MSNBC this morning was negative on Sotomayor right out of the box. She's not an academic genius like Koh and Wood--not as brilliant etc. Turley proceeded to trash talk some of Sotomayor's opinions and I changed the channel.

I'm thinking a smart, experienced Latina judge from the Bronx projects is just what the Supreme Court needs to give it a little shake up right about now. Bonus--watching Sotomayor take on Sen. Sessions in the Judiciary Comm. hearings!!

Posted by: BerkeleyMom on May 26, 2009 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

I tried to run it through the Wingnut-to-English decoder ring, but got two different results:

This morning on Fox News, Karl Rove questioned whether she was white enough to be on the Supreme Court. "I'm not really certain how white she would be, she has not been very white on the second circuit," he said. Citing Rosen, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes said that Sotomayor was "not the whitest."

But, unfortunately, I also got this result, which the decoder ring found equally plausible:

This morning on Fox News, Karl Rove questioned whether she was male enough to be on the Supreme Court. "I'm not really certain how phallically strong she would be, she has not been very male on the second circuit," he said. Citing Rosen, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes said that Sotomayor was "not the most hung."

Guess you'll have to take your pick.

Posted by: zeitgeist on May 26, 2009 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

So let's talk about Karl Rove's intellectual accomplishments, then.


Posted by: Curmudgeon on May 26, 2009 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Is this line coming from the wonderful folks who gave us Clarence Thomas?

Posted by: Virginia on May 26, 2009 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

this entire line of attack is cheap and insulting.

can you point out any line of attack that hasn't been cheap and insulting?

Posted by: karen marie on May 26, 2009 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Torture Memos, aka Mr. Yoo, also has a critique of Judge Sotomayor's intellectual firepower (the link is over at TPM). Does everyone on the right lack any intellectual shame?

Posted by: njprogressive on May 26, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

But ... cheap and wrong is the whole point.

This entire line of attack on Judge Sotomayor's credentials is a tactic - nothing more. It gives the GOP a line, and a tool, and a mask to pretend that this oncoming fight is actually about qualifications (as opposed to fundraising, and pleasing the base, and opposing everything that Obama does ... on account of because). Actual truth (or decency) has got nothing to do with it.

The fact that Rove and party hacks like Fred Barnes are out in front should make this plain.

Posted by: Bokonon on May 26, 2009 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Virginia beat me to it. Definitely new rule: anyone who defended Clarence Thomas' intellect can't challenge the brainpower of anyone smarter than a house plant.

Posted by: Yellow Dog on May 26, 2009 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Does everyone on the right lack any intellectual shame?

Posted by: njprogressive on May 26, 2009 at 3:02 PM |

Yes, they do.

Posted by: Chocolate Thunder on May 26, 2009 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

If Karl Rove and Fred Barnes are her critics, what, pray tell, is the problem?

With enemies like these, she needs no friends and admirers to sail through the nomination.

Posted by: gregor on May 26, 2009 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Only white belligerent manipulative felony aiding and abetting conservative men are geniuses. Everyone else is a dumb ass.

Posted by: Silver Owl on May 26, 2009 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

"Does everyone on the right lack any intellectual shame?"

Posted by: njprogressive

Sir - To answer your rhetorical question - Rethugs and the Reich-Wing possess no shame of any kind!

Posted by: SadOldVet on May 26, 2009 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "... this entire line of attack is cheap and insulting."

Of course it is -- it has been carefully crafted, focus-group-tested and scripted for maximum appeal to hardcore Ditto-Heads who listen to Rush Limbaugh and watch Fox News. "Cheap and insulting" is what they love.

I can just picture Rush's scriptwriters brainstorming, "is there any way we can make this cheaper and more insulting?"

Posted by: SecularAnimist on May 26, 2009 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

It seems to me that I have read somewhere that Karl Rove did not do very well in school!

Posted by: JS on May 26, 2009 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

I forgot to add the corollary to my post above, to wit, it would have been a great problem if Karl Rove and Fred Barnes actually liked the Obama nominee.

Posted by: gregor on May 26, 2009 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

The wingnuts are just a bit desperate. If they thought they could get traction attacking her opinions, they would. Instead they are going after the woman. Curious how whenever there is a foul disgusting political attack, "Turd Blossom" Karl is near by.

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on May 26, 2009 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't it a funny coincidence that all accomplished people of color are secretly dumb?"

Of course, had you completed Sewer's paragraph its meaning would be somewhat different:

(That isn't necessarily a partisan observation--whether or not Clarence Thomas was "qualified" to serve on the Supreme Court is different from the question of his intelligence. Liberals, then and since, often fail to make the distinction. As for the "Scalia clone" arguments, when was the last time Scalia quoted Frederick Douglass in a opinion?)


Posted by: David in Nashville on May 26, 2009 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

and Sotomayor is like Miers. - Curt Levey

I can't wait to see the cutesy little notes with hearts over the i's.

Posted by: Danp on May 26, 2009 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

It's basically a conscious effort to get the conservatives to believe that she is not qualified and an 'affirmative action judge'. It's red meat for the base. It comes down to the GOP talking heads quietly affirming the racist feelings of conservatives.

Posted by: dk on May 26, 2009 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

The point of an attack is that it's an attack. This is projection though. The Left spent eight years calling Bush stupid. Rove and his ilk want revenge now. This is why they push the Obama/Teleprompter meme as well.

The problem with Rove et al choosing intellect as their attack is that it's hard to move the goalposts later. "Activist Judge" is meaningless, so it can be spun. But people are going to hear Sotomayor speak. If she doesn't sound like a moron, the people making the case will sound silly. And unless they've got a really good Plan B, the game ends quickly.

Posted by: Mike from Detroit on May 26, 2009 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

maria, i've just met a girl named maria....

man, her confirmation hearing is gonna be something else. how many women and hispanics of the already dwindling numbers in the gop will remain?

i'm guessing -- four. lololol

Posted by: linda on May 26, 2009 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

It's just stunning. They tried the "Obama is too dumb to speak without a Teleprompter" meme, and now this.

So two top students from Ivy League grad schools, Obama and Sotomayor, are labels as dumb by a political party that touts as its heros two Presidents who were, at best, "C" students (Reagan and "W").

Seriously, the Republican Party has devolved to the point of just thinking up random shit to say about the Democrats. There is no other explanation.

And the dittoheads will eat it up.

Posted by: Anonny on May 26, 2009 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

The talking heads of the GOP have decided their fortune lies with imitating internet trolls. Of course it's asinine to attack Sotomayor's intelligence. But oooh! It gets us liberals so gosh darned angry! And we write about it and fume and how-dare-they! up the wazoo, and then Rove Limbaugh Yoo Hannity and their ilk high-five each other for getting under our skin (well, attempt to high-five, and miss, a lot). Then they go circle jerk onto a hefty aging prostitute dressed to look like Barbara Bush and consume the flesh of a live baby and all is right in their world.

Posted by: slappy magoo on May 26, 2009 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

How many of the guys saying this about Sotomayor were just so gosh-darned impressed with Sarah Palin?

At least if they're talking about stupidity, they're talking about something they have great experience in.

Posted by: Sean Micheal on May 26, 2009 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Mission accomplished, "Even-the-liberal-New-Republic."

Jackasses.

Posted by: Gregory on May 26, 2009 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

According to Rush, if a black President appoints a Latino woman, he's a reverse racist, but if a white male President appoints two white males justices, he's just picking the best people for the job.

I'm not surprised. For centuries, white men assumed other white men were the best candidates for any job.

Posted by: Cal Gal on May 26, 2009 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

In response to Turley's critiques. Any Supreme Court nominee is going to go through the ringer. As much there are more brilliant legal scholars out there compare to Sotomayor, every word they published, every tax return and receipt is going to be looked at. Sotomayor is probably the safest bet right now. If Scalia, Thomas and especially Kennedy resigns from the court or die unexpectedly , there will be a huge fight, but for now, someone who is competent, someone who has been through the Judiciary, looks like she will be confirm.

As much as Vice President Biden is a gaffe machine, as former head of the Judiciary Committee, he knows a bit on how to confirm a SCOTUS nominee

Posted by: Ted W. on May 26, 2009 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

My take on Turley is that she's too moderate for him. He's pretty far out there. (Not that that's a BAD thing.)

Posted by: Cal Gal on May 26, 2009 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Rove (and other GOP leading lights) didn't do poorly in school ... they were persecuted by LIBRUL TEACHERS!

You see? It is all partisan. Right, wrong, torture, not torture, or grade point averages ... just partisan.

I am kidding. But the fact that Sotomayor did well at elite schools has nothing to do the attacks that will be coming her way. That doesn't make her "smart" in the GOP's universe (as opposed to, say, joining the Federalist Society, kissing the asses of right wing grandees at conferences, and and giving ringing denunciations of "socialism" at party get-togethers on the National Day of Prayer). That's what qualifies as "intellectual seriousness" on the right - dedication to the cause. And Judge Sotomayor has the wrong views. This is just a respectable way of sneering "liberal" without sounding like an obvious partisan hack.

Anyway, the GOP has invented their partisan weapon, and now they will use it - and vigorously - regardless of whether it has anything to do with the reality the rest of us encounter.

And as we have seen, reality is frequently seen by these guys as an inconvenience, to be brushed aside (or crushed) in pursuit of a greater good ... like illegalizing abortion. In which no tactics are off limits - lying, cheating, breaking campaign finance laws, maybe even tampering with ballots -- since the ultimate goal is righteous.

Posted by: Bokonon on May 26, 2009 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

Jonathan Turley is rapidly approaching David Sirota status with me: heart's in the right place, but all things considered a rather dickish self-aggrandizing glory-hound as The Only Man Of Principle Left.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on May 26, 2009 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

It's amazing that at this point, there isn't a universal understanding among, well, everyone what Rove's "style" is. He always, always attacks people based on their biggest strength - so if Rove attacks you for "not being X", that's identical to a flat-out statement from him that you're very much X.

Ie, if Rove attacks your patriotism, it means you're a true patriot. If he attacks your intelligence, it means he considers you a genius. If he doubts your popularity, it means your approval ratings must be very high.

Rove does nothing but consistently point out what people's biggest strengths are, and what the right is the most afraid of. So, he thinks Sotomayor is a lot smarter than he is. Pretty nice endorsement, Karl. Thanks.

Posted by: DH Walker on May 26, 2009 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

Karl Rove dropped out of the University of Utah. Sonia Sotomayor received a B.A. in History from Princeton, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and a law degree from Yale.

Whether she's as bright as Elena Kagan or Harold Koh, I don't know. But at least she finished college, Karl.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on May 26, 2009 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK
How many of the guys saying this about Sotomayor were just so gosh-darned impressed with Sarah Palin?

Yeah, but it wasn't her intellect that turned them on, it was that she was all sparkly.

And, seriously, these are the same people who think of SC justices as glorified umpires. How can you lack the intellectual firepower to call balls and strikes?

Posted by: noncarborundum on May 26, 2009 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

To be fair, Clarence Thomas is profoundly dumb, so very profoundly, droolingly dumb that now I have begun to question whether all people of color, or all males, or all human beings who have ever existed upon the earth, are not complete dumb shits as well. Otherwise Thomas is a 60-sigma miracle of dumb, and that is statistically implausible.

Posted by: long dong silver on May 26, 2009 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK
Mr. Torture Memos, aka Mr. Yoo, also has a critique of Judge Sotomayor's intellectual firepower (the link is over at TPM). Does everyone on the right lack any intellectual shame?

It gets even better. Get this sentence from his essay:

There are no opinions that suggest she would change the direction of constitutional law as have Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court.... [emphasis added]

Posted by: PaulB on May 26, 2009 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

Sonia Sotomayor won the Pyne Prize during her senior year at Princeton -- the University's top prize for academic achievement by an undergraduate.
http://blogs.dailyprincetonian.com/2009/05/sonia-sotomayor-76-is-very-smart.html

Her credentials and record are actually very similar to those of Samuel Alito: Princeton undergrad, Yale Law School, served as a prosecutor for several years, some impressive legal service, then onto the federal bench for a decade and a half of so service as a judge. In some areas (academic achievement, breadth and length of judicial experience, service in private practice of law) she has a slight edge, in others (service in high-level government positions) he does.

The notion that she is some kind of intellectual lightweight is just foolishness -- dust in the wind. It will be blown away before tomorrow.

Posted by: twc on May 26, 2009 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

Her work history and background are more varied and impressive than Alito's.

Posted by: Curm on May 26, 2009 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, but it wasn't her intellect that turned them on, it was that she was all sparkly.

Which reminds me of one of the best descriptions of Palin's performance from after the Veep debate -- I wish I remember who said it: "She acted like she was trying to pick America up in a bar."

Posted by: Gregory on May 26, 2009 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

Would Sotomayor have been one of the people that Alito was writing editorials to keep out of "Old Nassau"?

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on May 26, 2009 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

Please explain to me why I, or anyone, should care if she is a woman or "Latina," or whatever, from the Bronx, or wherever...

I don't see how that better helps her interpret the Constitution...

Tim Norling
Fort Lauderdale

Posted by: Tim Norling on May 26, 2009 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

Tim, it's the Constitution can't be interpreted without a context and life experiences. Some of it, sure, but not the deeper implications. And don't forget the Ninth Amendment: different people will look for different "unenumerated rights."

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on May 26, 2009 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

Tim -

If there were only one obviously right answer to all questions of constitutional interpretation, it would be a huge waste to have 9 justices instead of just 1. The fact that for hundreds of years courts of appeal at various levels, state and federal, have had multiple judges is that everyone understands that there is a jury-like quality to even Constitutional judging: the framers did not (could not) anticipate everything, particularly over time. Like most writing, there is ambiguity, especially in novel applications. Thats why, despite the astounding constitutional credentials of most Supreme Court justices over time there have always been split decisions.

Once you accept that, it is easy to see where the purpose of multiple justices is best served if they do not all come from the same background. 9 rich white men likely will not have the same view of what adverse state action to a depravation of a civil right like the right to vote or the right to equal protection under law as someone who is part of a class that has actually had those rights taken away over history. 9 rich white men likely will not have the same view of what is an "undue burden" (to use the standard from Casey) on the right to an abortion as a poor women in a violent relationship or with violent parents does.

It is not Sotomayor's personal race or gender and how that impacts her personal vote that matters so much as the collective diversity of input on the court as a whole. Ideally there would at any given time and over the longer haul be a good mix of men and women, various races, various religions, people with experience in different areas of law, from different parts of the country, different schools, different upbringing, different sexual orientation, and some with disabilities. That ensures both that differing viewpoints challenge each others' assumptions and are heard, but also because it negates the inherent and often unchallenged assumptions and biases of the privileged majority.

Posted by: zeitgeist on May 26, 2009 at 7:45 PM | PERMALINK

So Clarence Thomas is still alive! After hearing Claire McCaskill talk about how the Supreme Court has no members who have grown up in poverty and overcome extreme hardships, I was beginning to wonder. I guess she was just wrong.

Posted by: Vatar on May 26, 2009 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

Whatever you think about Karl Rove, it is ludicrous to call him dumb.

Posted by: DeDe on May 26, 2009 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

Gee, I wonder if any Democrats have ever called Clarence Thomas dumb... Nah! They'd never do that! Oh, wait a second, i was wrong. They've been calling Clarence Thomas (a "person of color" who is successful) dumb for decades. My bad.

Posted by: Circle K on May 27, 2009 at 7:34 AM | PERMALINK

As someone said : " A mediocrity is nominated to replace another mediocrity". Can someone on the left name just one benefit (other than the standard leftists kumbaya drivel) that this nation had gained from "diversity"????

Conservatives believe in equal opportunity - leftists believe in equal outcome no matter the qualifications - hence affirmative action.

Posted by: fred on May 27, 2009 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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