Tuesday, 26 May 2009

GOP lies -- what Sotomayor really said

Here is what Sotomayor actually said about making policy -- she advocates a position exactly opposite to what the GOP has said:

The saw is that if you're going into academia, you're going to teach, or as Judge Lucero just said, public interest law, all of the legal defense funds out there, they're looking for people with court of appeals experience, because it is -- court of appeals is where policy is made. And I know -- and I know this is on tape and I should never say that because we don't make law, I know. OK, I know. I'm not promoting it, and I'm not advocating it, I'm -- you know. OK. Having said that, the court of appeals is where, before the Supreme Court makes the final decision, the law is percolating -- its interpretation, its application. And Judge Lucero is right. I often explain to people, when you're on the district court, you're looking to do justice in the individual case. So you are looking much more to the facts of the case than you are to the application of the law because the application of the law is non-precedential, so the facts control. On the court of appeals, you are looking to how the law is developing, so that it will then be applied to a broad class of cases. And so you're always thinking about the ramifications of this ruling on the next step in the development of the law. You can make a choice and say, "I don't care about the next step," and sometimes we do. Or sometimes we say, "We'll worry about that when we get to it" -- look at what the Supreme Court just did. But the point is that that's the differences -- the practical differences in the two experiences are the district court is controlled chaos and not so controlled most of the time.

And here is her statement on Latin women and white men; the GOP doesn't want you to know that she was referring to discrimination cases, in which a Latina obviously would have more insight.

In our private conversations, Judge Cedarbaum has pointed out to me that seminal decisions in race and sex discrimination cases have come from Supreme Courts composed exclusively of white males. I agree that this is significant but I also choose to emphasize that the people who argued those cases before the Supreme Court which changed the legal landscape ultimately were largely people of color and women. I recall that Justice Thurgood Marshall, Judge Connie Baker Motley, the first black woman appointed to the federal bench, and others of the NAACP argued Brown v. Board of Education. Similarly, Justice Ginsburg, with other women attorneys, was instrumental in advocating and convincing the Court that equality of work required equality in terms and conditions of employment.

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am not so sure Justice O'Connor is the author of that line since Professor Resnik attributes that line to Supreme Court Justice Coyle. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see.

Hat tip to Crooks and Liars.

And a hat tip to 538 for debunking the "she had 60 percent of her rulings overruled" crap:

There are two fairly obvious problems with this. Firstly, only five of Sotomayor's opinions have been ruled upon by the Supreme Court. That's hardly enough to reach a statistically sound conclusion. Moreover, as a matter of semantics, most people don't begin quoting percentages until the number of instances is significantly higher than five. If you came into the office on a Monday morning, and I asked you whether you'd gotten out over the weekend, you probably wouldn't say: "Yes, I got out 66.67% of the time!" -- you'd just tell me that you went out on Friday and Saturday and then sat around and watched basketball on Sunday.

But secondly, a 60 percent reversal rate is actually below average based on the Washington Times' criteria. According to MediaMatters.org, the Supreme Court typically reverses about 75 percent of circuit court decisions that it chooses to rule upon.

The reason that the reversal rate is so high, of course, is that the Supreme Court has a lot of discretion about which cases it chooses to review and rule upon, and is generally not going to be inclined to overturn law dictated by a lower court unless the legal reasoning is substantially questionable and has a strong chance of reversal. The better metric would probably be the number of decisions that the Supreme Court overturned out of all of Sotomayor's majority opinions -- whether the Court elected to review them in detail or not. According to the terrific SCOTUSBLOG, "Since joining the Second Circuit in 1998, Sotomayor has authored over 150 opinions, addressing a wide range of issues, in civil cases". Even if we do not count the opinions she has authored in criminal, rather than civil, cases, that means the Supreme Court's reversal rate is not 60 percent, but at most 2 percent -- 3 cases out of 150. I have no idea whether that figure is above average, below average, or somewhere in between, but three reversals in more than a decade's worth of jurisprudence strikes this layman as being an extremely solid track record.

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