Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Wow. Cohen Strikes Again

Back in the mid-1990s a conservative editor of an important daily newspaper editorial page (they fit in a phone booth then and now) told me that his biggest problem wasn’t finding good conservative columnists to print, but a good liberal columnist to print. This was shortly after Murray Kempton died, and he seemed the last of the interesting old liberal writers.

In recent years I’ve noticed that the WaPo’s Richard Cohen went off the liberal reservation regularly, and today he does so with his column about the mediocrity of soon-to-be Justice Sotomayor. Sample:

She is, as everyone has pointed out, in the mainstream of American liberalism, a stream both intellectually shallow and preoccupied with the past. . . This is the sad state of both liberalism and American politics. First-class legal brains are not even nominated lest some senator break into hives at the prospect of encountering a genuinely new idea. The ceiling is further lowered by the need to season the court with diversity, a wonderful idea as long as brilliance is not compromised. The result has been the rout of sexism: The women are as mediocre as the men. From all we know, Sotomayor is no Scalia. She is no Thurgood Marshall, either, or even a John Roberts, who is leading the court in his own direction. She will be confirmed. But if she is not, liberalism will not have lost much of a champion or a thinker.

There were lots of other women jurists Obama might have chosen who could go toe-to-toe with Scalia, and also sway the impressionable Justice Kennedy. (Sotomayor is likely to antagonize him if anything.) The only thing Cohen misses here in his column is the conclusion that Obama is unimaginative and, dare we say it, lacking in audacity when it comes to Supreme Court appointments.

Discussions - 9 Comments

She is mediocre, that's for sure. The most Machiavellian interpretation, though, is that Obama's vision of change we can believe in doesn't have anything to do with judicial policymaking.

Or Omama could see a more subtle relationship between politics and judicial policymaking. To the extent that Sotomayor represents effective identity politics and strengthens Latino support for the Democrats, she helps put more liberal judges on the bench. Three liberal judges appointed over eight years (however mediocre)are more effective in advancing liberal judicial policymaking that one genius appointed by a one term President and whose next two colleagues are conservatives.

meant Obama. Sorry.

A further whine: when Republicans attempt to put known mediocrities on the SC -- Carswell of whom Senator Hruska said, "Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers, and they are entitled to a little representation, aren't they?" or Harriet Meiers of whom too much was rightly said, it is an outrage, dare I say, audacious. However, this is not audacity? I think it is, and if Sotomayer is going to be confirmed, which everyone seems to be saying she will, that is truly audacious. This is carrying our democratic notions of a democratically representative government a little too far. Liberals know it and don't really care?

Saying she is really no worse than Souter does not help. Will this be the mediocrity seat on the bench or do you suppose the plan is for more of the same?

Republican have put their share of mediocrities on the bench. Kate is right to mention Souter, but the same could be said of Sandra Day O'Connor. The Supreme Court has often been a place of mediocre thinking. Does anyone think that Griswold vs Connecticut is well written - emanations from penumbras(?) Just trying to explain that makes you sound crazy.

i sort of agree that mediocrity hasn't been a disqualifying factor. i'm the first to say that thomas has turned out to be an outstanding justice, but neither his credentials nor his performance his confirmation hearing would have suggested that. i also agree that the Republicans didn't put up much of a fight. they didn't have the numbers or the outrage that would capture the national imagination.

Well Obama has the votes to replace Souter with someone with the same philosophy. I think the Republicans handled it right. Score some important points and then stand aside as the President puts a mediocre advocate of activist jurisprudence on the court. If we are lucky, the next appointment will be after 2010 and the real battle will begin.

Art Deco, I know what you are saying and I totally agree that I would prefer an honest but middling mind to one that was brilliant but dishonest. I just thought that the argument that Sotomayor was "mediocre" was problematic for both historical and political reasons. If she were an undistinguished conservative constitutionalist, I would not be complaining. I had a similar problem with shots at Sarah Palin's intelligence. Say whatever you want about her sometimes erratic recent activity, we would not be threatened with the curent healthcare monstrosity if she were President - which goes to Art Deco's point.

You may be right, Art Deco. Still, I read a convincing lot of conservatives who were dismayed by the Miers nomination. I was not just reading the Washington Post. I will keep what you said in mind. I am sound on Carswell, though?

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