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Case Against Sotomayor: Bully on the Bench?

Tuesday, 26 May 2009 10:49 AM

By Jim Meyers

Sonia Sotomayor, President Barack Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, "has an inflated opinion of herself" and is "kind of a bully on the bench."

That view doesn't come from a conservative -- it's the view expressed by a former clerk for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where Sotomayor now serves, to Jeffrey Rosen, legal affairs editor for The New Republic.

The New Republic is a decidedly liberal publication -- but the magazine published a harsh portrait of the new Obama nominee three weeks ago, when she was being mentioned as a contender for the Court post.

Rosen's article, headlined "The Case Against Sotomayor," also noted that he had spoken to a range of people who have worked with Sotomayor.

Rosen wrote: "Most are Democrats and all of them want President Obama to appoint a judicial star of the highest intellectual caliber who has the potential to change the direction of the court.

"Nearly all of them acknowledged that Sotomayor is a presumptive front-runner, but nearly none of them raved about her. They expressed questions about her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative.

"The most consistent concern was that Sotomayor, although an able lawyer, was 'not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench,' as one former Second Circuit clerk for another judge put it. 'She has an inflated opinion of herself, and is domineering during oral arguments, but her questions aren't penetrating and don't get to the heart of the issue.'"

Rosen added: "Her opinions, although competent, are viewed by former prosecutors as not especially clean or tight, and sometimes miss the forest for the trees."

Even Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald, who defends Sotomayor, cites some of her less-than-praiseworthy behavior in court. Greenwald writes that he remembers, "... she was very assertive and aggressive - at times unpleasantly so - in how she presided over her courtroom.

"In the first case I had with her ... I committed some sort of substantial procedural mistake ... and she very harshly excoriated me in a courtroom packed with lawyers from other cases. I certainly did not enjoy that, and at the time harbored negative sentiments towards her (who wouldn't?), but that behavior - for judges - is the opposite of uncommon."

The most controversial case in which Sotomayor participated as an appellate judge is Ricci v. DeStefano. She sided with the city of New Haven, Conn., in a discrimination case that white firefighters brought after the city threw out results of a promotion exam because too few minorities scored high enough.

But the extent of Sotomayor's involvement in the opinion is not publicly known, according to Rosen.

Ironically, that case is now before the Supreme Court.

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