Weeks ago, Jeffrey Rosen wrote a scurrilous article for The New Republic in which he asserted, on the basis of anonymous gossip, that Sonia Sotomayor, summa cum laude of Princeton, recipient of the prestigious Pyne Prize, and editor of the Yale Law Journal, was "not that smart." Rosen was candid enough to admit that he hadn't "read enough of Sonia Sotomayor’s opinions to have a confident sense of them" and that he hadn't "talked to enough of Sonia Sotomayor’s detractors and supporters to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths." As I wrote at the time, the 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? (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?)
Conservatives latched on to Rosen's criticisms at the time, shearing the intended subtext from the respectful veneer adopted by Rosen. These arguments form the basis of their case against Sotomayor now. Ramesh Ponnuru, joining right-wing activist Curt Levey compares her to Harriet Miers, Bush's former White House Counsel who withdrew her nomination over conservative opposition. "This is someone who clearly was picked because she’s a woman and Hispanic, not because she was the best qualified," said Levey. She's a "quota pick" says Rod Dreher. I wonder how many of her opinions he's read. Wait--he doesn't have to, he read Rosen's piece in which Rosen admitted to having not really read her opinions.
Needless to say Miers has nothing even resembling the academic accomplishments of Sotomayor--in fact Miers was never even a judge. Sotomayor has been a judge since 1991, when she was nominated by President George H.W. Bush. She's been an appeals judge for over a decade, since 1998. Comparing their credentials is like comparing a biologist to a surgeon because they both work with organic life. At any rate, had Miers had the requisite conservative paper trail, conservatives would have supported her nomination anyway. They certainly didn't mind packing the Justice Department with lawyers who got their degrees from schools founded by televangelists.
Sotomayor's resume doesn't just look good compared to Harriet Miers. Sotomayor has more than 10 years on the appeals court--by contrast, the current chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, had two years as a judge on the D.C. Circuit before being nominated. As a white man, however, his credentials and intelligence are beyond reproach. I also think Brian Beutler is declaring Rosen's critique a "failure" prematurely: whether or not Rosen's article influenced the White House's decision making is separate from whether or not conservative arguments about her "intelligence" will ultimately derail her nomination, which given the kind of Democrats we have in Congress right now is entirely possible.
A case against Sotomayor based on her "credentials" or "intelligence" is false on its face--this is a kind of Southern Strategy all over again. By stoking white resentment over the rise of allegedly unqualified minorities getting prominent positions, the GOP is hoping to derail her nomination. It probably won't work, but it's another sign of how little the GOP learned from last year's election.
-- A. Serwer