In his introductory comments at Monday’s hearing on prospective Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotamayor, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) boasted that over the course of her career, the nominee “ruled for the government in 83% of immigration cases, in 92% of criminal cases.” This apparently is a plus.
The anti-drug prohibition blog Aid and Comfort points out that in addition to Vice President Biden’s promise to several law enforcement organizations last month that Sotomayor has “got your back,” her confirmation has also been endorsed by law enforcement groups like the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the National Sheriff’s Association, the National Association of Police Organizations, the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Association of District Attorneys.
Yesterday’s hearing didn’t delve too much into criminal justice issues, but where it did, it consisted of Democrats like Schumer going out of their way to tout Sotomayor’s pro-state, anti-defense credentials, and Sotomayor applying Obama’s “empathy” standard not to the rights of the accused but to victims of crime. This isn’t to say that crime victims don’t deserve empathy, of course. But the Supreme Court rarely has occasion to rule on issues related to the victims of crime. It rules on how far to extend the constitutional protections of those accused of committing crimes. Putting the focus on victims instead of the civil rights of criminal defendants is a popular tactic among the law and order crowd. Which is to say that Sotomayor knew exactly what message she was sending.
Mother Jones correspondent Stephanie Mencimer’s summary of the hearings thus far is a bit over the top, but not by much:
Republicans would accuse Sotomayor of being a soft-hearted minority, and she would parry with examples from her 17-year judicial career where she’d been as mean or meaner than any white guy on the bench.
I think it’s safe to say that on criminal justice issues, Sotomayor has given a pretty strong indication that she’ll be quite a bit more conservative than the justice she’s replacing (though that opinion isn’t unanimous). Even if that it isn’t the case, she at least realizes that projecting that image will only benefit her in the confirmation process.
All of which says quite a bit about the lack of real national debate on criminal justice issues. Given the flaws in the criminal justice system revealed by DNA testing in recent years, it’s unfortunate that liberal interest groups have mostly fallen in line, and avoided raising questions about Sotomayor’s record on these issues. The Democrats’ party leadership and judiciary committee members aren’t interested in defending the idea of protecting the rights of the accused so much as showing that their president’s nominee (a former prosecutor, we’ve been repeatedly reminded) will be just as “tough on crime” as any Republican appointee.