Candidata and Candidate

27 May 2009

Back when Barack Obama and John McCain had selected their respective running-mates for the Presidential race, a 'Net friend wrote

[…] it does seem that Obama picked the best person to help him govern, whereas McCain picked the best person to help him win.
which was certainly a plausible interpretation of the choice (so long as we tweak it to refer to the expectations of Obama and of McCain).

Now Obama has nominated an appointee to the Supreme Court who is unlikely to sway other judges in favor of left-wing opinion:

The Case Against Sotomayor by Jeffrey Rosen of the New Republic 04 May 2009

[…] Most are Democrats and all of them want President Obama to appoint a judicial star of the highest intellectual caliber who has the potential to change the direction of the court. Nearly all of them acknowledged that Sotomayor is a presumptive front-runner, but nearly none of them raved about her. They expressed questions about her temperament, her judicial craftsmanship, and most of all, her ability to provide an intellectual counterweight to the conservative justices, as well as a clear liberal alternative.

The most consistent concern was that Sotomayor, although an able lawyer, was not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench, as one former Second Circuit clerk for another judge put it. She has an inflated opinion of herself, and is domineering during oral arguments, but her questions aren't penetrating and don't get to the heart of the issue. (During one argument, an elderly judicial colleague is said to have leaned over and said, Will you please stop talking and let them talk?) […]

Sotomayor has infamously asserted

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.
Well, the logician in me wants to point out that the decisions of any wise person (Latina or otherwise) can be be expected to be better over-all than the decisions of a typical person (white and male or otherwise); wisdom simply isn't typical. So if Sotomayor hadn't implicitly inserted a second wise in front of white male, then she would have expressed something basically true but close-on to vacuous, and cluttered-up with inappropriate adjectives.

Unfortunately, she was arguing against the claim that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases, so she was arguing for a sort of sexism, at least a sexism conditional upon race.

In any case, the problem is that Sotomayor herself isn't wise. That leaves the (somewhat redundant) Latina woman part. That part wouldn't help her to reach better decisions or even to argue effectively for whatever judgments she reached, but it would help the Democrats in future elections and help Obama in particular.

(The Republicans are in poor position to complain about such a selection. When running for President in 1980, Ronald Reagan promised that his first nominee to the SCotUS would be a woman. Worse, the woman whom he nominated was Sandra Day O'Connor, whose judicial philosophy, such as it was, was baddumbmommism — an insistence on ending specific conflicts by imposing pragmatic compromise.)

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