Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sotomayor and race, parting edition?

Matt Yglesias makes good points pushing back on Sotomayor representing "the worst" of racial politics here. It's worth a read. One thing that I think is a problem is how narrow the requirements for picking a Supreme Court justice have become. There was a point where the Court included Earl Warren, the former Governor of California; Hugo Black, a former U.S. Senator and New Deal-era federal official; Felix Frankfurter, an official and former Harvard professor; and William O. Douglas, who similarly had not held legal or judicial office before being elevated to the Supreme Court. All of these guys are considered to have been top-notch justices (though the right generally won't give it up for Warren, still) but none of them were clerks for Supreme Court judges, and none of them were Circuit Court judges. These days, it seems like you need to be both to be considered a serious nominee.

Which is fine--having that sort of background is fine, and it will probably be good preparation for working on the Court. But there's no particular reason why, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger wouldn't eventually make a decent Supreme Court justice. I'm sure he'd be rocky at first, but there's no mystery to what the Supreme Court does--they look at federal laws to see if they're in line with the Constitution and past precedent. I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of adults in America could handle the job within a few years. Now, I believe we should set a higher bar than adequacy, but this sort of talk really gets me thinking: how much of this is about class interest? Journalists and jurists are going to come from similar cohorts--mostly male, mostly white, mostly upper-middle class--so when Mark Halperin puts up a cheeky banner on his site about how "no white men need apply" for being a SCOTUS nominee, or how picking a woman that the Bar Association found well qualified represents the "worst" of racial politics, seems to be coming from that place. Indeed, if Sotomayor isn't qualified because she didn't write enough major decisions (presumably it's not because of the breadth of her experience), then how can John Roberts be a justified choice, since he had three years of judicial experience and wrote few major opinions, outside of Hamdan, which was overturned by the Supremes? Alito's major decisions were also pretty muted. This is just how it goes--people who rule on major issues tend not to be Supreme Court nominees because they're easier to demagogue. Hell, that Obama picked a woman who made a reasonable but unpopular decision on affirmative action is laudable, in my mind. He could have taken the easier path, but he didn't. This was the exception that proves the rule, as she was the subject of a rather despicable whisper campaign by the likes of Jeff Rosen.

As I said, it's unclear to me why Sotomayor is a travesty while Roberts is a great pick. Well, aside from the obvious ones for conservatives.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.