Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Sonia Sotomayor’s Reputation on the Bench Comes into Play

Throughout the nomination process for Sotomayor, the White House has been quick to point out that the Supreme Court nominee has more years of experience on the bench, as a trial court and appellate judge, than any previous Supreme Court nominee. With so many years of experience also comes a reputation.

Every few years the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary publishes evaluations of each federal judge. The evaluations are from lawyers, and in past years Sotomayor’s evaluations are often rave reviews – referring to her as brilliant, tireless, the best, but also tough. However, in the most recent batch of reviews 8 of 10 lawyers described her in less than flattering ways, including: “a terror on the bench,” “nasty,” “overly aggressive,” and “a bit of a bully.”

Only Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) has pointed out these recent reviews as being a problem. She explained that in her experience she has found that “there are some judges that have an edge, that do not wear the robe well. I don’t like that.”

When Sotomayor’s fellow judges were asked what they thought, they described her as tough and always prepared. Both Republican and Democratic appointees rejected the idea that she is a bully.  However, some did point out that she may talk too much or dominate oral arguments.

Sotomayor’s mentor, and former dean of Yale Law School, Judge Guido Calabresi, said that he heard rumors of her being overly aggressive when she first joined the Court of Appeals so he began to examine the tone of her questions and those of her male counterparts. “And I must say I found no difference at all. So I concluded that all that was going on was that there were some male lawyers who couldn’t stand being questioned toughly by a woman,” Calabresi says. “It was sexism in its most obvious form.”

In her time as an Appeals Court judge, it has become clear that Sotomayor asks tough questions. However, with closer examination it can be seen that she generally does not ask overwhelmingly more questions than the other judges she shares the bench with, nor does she interrupt the lawyers presenting their cases more often.

The U.S. Supreme Court is no place for a pushover so, if Judge Sotomayor dominates oral arguments on occasion, asks tough questions and is sometimes even pushy, it seems that she would fit right in on the High Court.

NPR