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Bench Memos

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Noah Webster, Call Your Office



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In addition to the problems Matt has summarized (calling Thurgood Marshall “Thurmond,” etc.) in Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s writings and speeches, yet another is that she likes to talk about how she rejects common-sense definitions (indeed, any definitions) of words such as “merit” and “wise.”

In a speech Sotomayor gave shortly after she became a federal court judge, she called herself “the perfect affirmative action baby”: She had not done as well on standardized tests as her fellow Princeton and Yale Law students, and she asserted that such tests are “culturally biased.” She also said, “I have difficulty defining merit and what merit alone means.”

She also has difficulty defining what “wise” means: In the stump speech that she delivered repeatedly, for at least a decade between 1994 and 2004, including its publication in La Raza in 2002, she said, “There can never be a universal definition of wise.” (Right after that, she nevertheless famously uttered — repeatedly, every time she gave the speech — “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.”)

This sort of postmodernist nihilism (which, as we’ve discussed in this space) is a variant of the “legal realist” school that Sotomayor has admired in her writings. As Victor Davis Hanson points out, this is also the philosophy of the fellow postmodernist who nominated her: “He believes that all truth is relative, and that assertions gain or lose credibility depending on the race, class, and gender of the speaker.”

As for Sotomayor, her refusal to accept common definitions of “merit” and “wise” is not just academic, but is relevant to her judging. Just see Exhibit A: Ricci v. DeStefano.



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