WSJ's Strassel falsely claimed Obama "decreed" that Sotomayor debate feature "biography" over "qualifications"

››› ››› LILY YAN

Kimberley Strassel falsely claimed President Obama "decreed" that debate over Sonia Sotomayor "be a discussion primarily about Judge Sotomayor's biography, not her qualifications." In fact, in his speech announcing Sotomayor's nomination, Obama spoke extensively about her qualifications.

In a May 29 column, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Kimberley Strassel wrote that "President Barack Obama has laid down his ground rules for the debate over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor" and then falsely claimed, "Ground Rule No. 1, as decreed by the president, is that this is to be a discussion primarily about Judge Sotomayor's biography, not her qualifications." In fact, contrary to Strassel's claim that Obama "decreed" that "this is to be a discussion primarily about Judge Sotomayor's biography, not her qualifications," in his speech announcing her nomination, Obama began his remarks about Sotomayor by speaking extensively about her qualifications.

In his May 26 nomination announcement, Obama stated, "Over a distinguished career that spans three decades, Judge Sotomayor has worked at almost every level of our judicial system, providing her with a depth of experience and a breadth of perspective that will be invaluable as a Supreme Court justice." He continued:

It's a measure of her qualities and her qualifications that Judge Sotomayor was nominated to the U.S. District Court by a Republican President, George H.W. Bush, and promoted to the Federal Court of Appeals by a Democrat, Bill Clinton. Walking in the door she would bring more experience on the bench, and more varied experience on the bench, than anyone currently serving on the United States Supreme Court had when they were appointed.

Judge Sotomayor is a distinguished graduate of two of America's leading universities. She's been a big-city prosecutor and a corporate litigator. She spent six years as a trial judge on the U.S. District Court, and would replace Justice Souter as the only justice with experience as a trial judge, a perspective that would enrich the judgments of the Court.

For the past 11 years she has been a judge on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit of New York, one of the most demanding circuits in the country. There she has handed down decisions on a range of constitutional and legal questions that are notable for their careful reasoning, earning the respect of colleagues on the bench, the admiration of many lawyers who argue cases in her court, and the adoration of her clerks who look to her as a mentor.

During her tenure on the District Court, she presided over roughly 450 cases. One case in particular involved a matter of enormous concern to many Americans, including me: the baseball strike of 1994-1995. (Laughter.) In a decision that reportedly took her just 15 minutes to announce, a swiftness much appreciated by baseball fans everywhere -- (laughter) -- she issued an injunction that helped end the strike. Some say that Judge Sotomayor saved baseball. (Applause.)

Judge Sotomayor came to the District Court from a law firm where she was a partner focused on complex commercial litigation, gaining insight into the workings of a global economy. Before that she was a prosecutor in the Manhattan DA's office, serving under the legendary Robert Morgenthau, an early mentor of Sonia's who still sings her praises today. There, Sonia learned what crime can do to a family and a community, and what it takes to fight it. It's a career that has given her not only a sweeping overview of the American judicial system, but a practical understanding of how the law works in the everyday lives of the American people.

From Strassel's Wall Street Journal column:

President Barack Obama has laid down his ground rules for the debate over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. The big question now is whether Republicans agree to play by rules that neither Mr. Obama nor his party have themselves followed.

Ground Rule No. 1, as decreed by the president, is that this is to be a discussion primarily about Judge Sotomayor's biography, not her qualifications. The media gurus complied, with inspiring stories of how she was born to Puerto Rican immigrants, how she was raised by a single mom in a Bronx housing project, how she went on to Princeton and then Yale. In the years that followed she presumably issued a judicial opinion here or there, but whatever.

The president, after all, had taken great pains to explain that this is more than an American success story. Rather, it is Judge Sotomayor's biography that uniquely qualifies her to sit on the nation's highest bench -- that gives her the "empathy" to rule wisely. Judge Sotomayor agrees: "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn't lived that life," she said in 2001.

If so, perhaps we can expect her to join in opinions with the wise and richly experienced Clarence Thomas. That would be the same Justice Thomas who lost his father, and was raised by his mother in a rural Georgia town, in a shack without running water, until he was sent to his grandfather. The same Justice Thomas who had to work every day after school, though he was not allowed to study at the Savannah Public Library because he was black. The same Justice Thomas who became the first in his family to go to college and receive a law degree from Yale.

By the president's measure, the nation couldn't find a more empathetic referee than Justice Thomas. And yet here's what Mr. Obama had to say last year when Pastor Rick Warren asked him about the Supreme Court: "I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas. I don't think that he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation."

In other words, nine months ago Mr. Obama thought that the primary qualification for the High Court was the soundness of a nominee's legal thinking, or at least that's what Democrats have always stressed when working against a conservative judge. Throughout the Bush years, it was standard Democratic senatorial practice to comb through every last opinion, memo, job application and college term paper, all with an aim of creating a nominee "too extreme" or "unqualified" to sit on the federal bench.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.