Schumer Plays Up Sotomayor’s Authoritarianism

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

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.

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35 Responses to “Schumer Plays Up Sotomayor’s Authoritarianism”

  1. #1 |  Johnny Longtorso (aka jsh) | 

    Being tough on crime is them covering their right flank so they can get away with taxes and regulation. All a matter of priorities.

  2. #2 |  Chet | 

    First Ladies often take up public causes; I’ve often wondered whether the first black First Lady might be uniquely positioned to champion the cause of justice reform, given that it’s an issue that affects minorities disproportionately.

    It’s still the case that justice system reform is probably politically untenable, but someone with the rhetorical and framing skills of an Obama might be able to make it work.

  3. #3 |  Lee | 


    I’m sure others have read this but I wanted to point this out from Drug War Rant.

    SCOTUS decided that defendants have a right to examine lab results in court.

    It will be interesting to see how prosecutors get around this.

  4. #4 |  SJE | 

    “tough one crime” = “ignorant no-thinking yes-man”

  5. #5 |  SJE | 

    tough ON crime. I need more coffee!

  6. #6 |  Chance | 

    What does anyone expect? You could probably count on one hand the number of public office holders who won on some variant of a “the accused have rights too ya know” plank, and those were probably only after some major police scandal.

  7. #7 |  freedomfan | 

    This is about what I expected from Sotomayor, or any Obama nominee. They are hoping that pimping her pro-cop cred will deflect attention from other areas and insulate her from Republican criticism. What stinks is that she is pro-police state; that’s her actual background and not just a political act to get her confirmed.

    Which, btw, is wholly consistent with anyone should expect of an Obama (or Bush or whatever politician) nominee. Pro-government is pro-police authority. People have this false notion that politicians are only in favor of government in “their” area, as defined by their spin (Republicans want government to subsidize business and limit certain behaviors, Democrats want government to redistribute money and limit other behaviors). But, there really is no difference. We aren’t going to get a government that stops you from smoking pot (which, according to the marketing, Republicans hate) and doesn’t also stop you from smoking cigarettes (which Democrats hate). We aren’t going to have a government that has special interest group (social) welfare programs and doesn’t also have corporate welfare programs.

    It’s folly to think that overreaching government authority can be tightly focused only onto the “right” areas. Big government means big regulation, big police authority, big Socialist Insecurity, big Medicare, big corporate contracts for “green” technology, big bailouts, etc.

  8. #8 |  freedomfan | 

    And, BTW, I hope no one expected anything but complete pro-police authoritarianism from Schumer. It’s hard to think of a bigger defender of police authority in the face of massive police screwups during the nineties.

    It’s the same story. Pro-regulation of business and pro-regulation of individual freedom go hand-in-hand. The same guy who wants to control the terms of your credit card is the guy shaking the hands of the stormtroopers when the ATF raids an elderly couple’s house int he middle of the night.

  9. #9 |  SusanK | 

    Thanks for reminding me why I bury my head in the sand during the Supreme Court nomination process – I feel absolutely powerless to affect any change (I can’t even kid myself that a message to my Senator would be worthwhile) and the nominess generally scare the heck out of me. If I ignore all this, then I can feign surprise when the Supreme Court rules a way I don’t like, instead of expecting their opinions to be sucky.

  10. #10 |  JohnJ | 

    It’s a shame that she doesn’t have “empathy” for the Constitution. If judges would rule based on that, we’d all be a lot better off.

  11. #11 |  Zargon | 

    I wonder if it’s good or bad that 83 and 92% are lower than I would have guessed.

  12. #12 |  Dave Krueger | 

    The two parties seem to be in lock-step on many issues and when they are, you can be sure their stance will be contrary to what libertarians believe.

    “Tough on crime” is an easy sell. Both parties also agree on increasing government power. Both parties actively push Congressional responsibilities off on the Executive. Both parties are in favor of huge bailouts and corporate welfare (although they always oppose it when the other party is doing it) and both are anti-free market (regardless of lip service to the contrary). Both parties are also pro-welfare. Remember when Republicans used to be against it? You’d have to be pretty old.

    Being the cynic that I am, the only thing I see happening in these hearings is grandstanding with a bunch of two-faced unethical corrupt politicians performing a ritual initiation on someone who really really really wants to be a member of the exclusive club.

    Anyone who really had the nads to speak up about police and prosecutor misconduct and defendants rights would never even have made it to the position Sotomayor is coming from, much less the one she’s going to, and most assuredly would never have made it on any President’s list of possibles.

  13. #13 |  Ginger Dan | 

    Anyone who really had the nads to speak up about police and prosecutor misconduct and defendants rights would never even have made it to the position Sotomayor is coming from, much less the one she’s going to, and most assuredly would never have made it on any President’s list of possibles.

    Winner! I think I anyone needs a sentence to describe Sotomayor’s criminal justice position, there you go. Well done as always Dave.

  14. #14 |  supercat | 

    //“Tough on crime” is an easy sell. //

    Unfortunately, it usually means “Tough on all crime except that committed by government personnel”, but nobody mentions that.

    Further, there seems to be some bizarre belief that “conservative” means “agree with the government unconditionally in all criminal proceedings”. I would regard some of the excessive authoritarian leanings of certain Republicans as anti-Constitution and thus anti-conservative.

  15. #15 |  JThompson | 

    *sigh* Isn’t rights of the downtrodden what democrats are supposed to be good for? Clearly not anymore. No more than republicans are for fiscal responsibility of any kind.

    It’s a sad that in our current system that only the absolute whores can get elected. Perhaps what we need is one of those three strikes laws the politicians seem so fond of. If they get caught telling three openly disprovable lies while campaigning or serving, we toss them out on their ass. We can call it “Being Tough on the Useless”, which would be far more accurate than “Tough on Crime” ever was.

    @Dave: I agree. I think that’s why I generally like the libertarian and green candidates even when I disagree with what they happen to be saying. They’re not saying it to weasel votes or get the base fired up. They’re saying it because they actually think it’s the best solution. They’re not going to throw out their ideals to buy a few votes. At some point, you have to admire honesty even in people you disagree with on many things.

  16. #16 |  donttread | 

    You’re absolutely right, supercat, there is a significant portion of the movement considered “conservative” that is against the overreaching authoritarianism of the government, as shown by the conservative opposition to Real-ID.

    Earlier commenters hit it exactly right: pro-government means pro-authority, essentially by definition, whether seen in the D’s or R’s.

    Since Democrats are the most pro-government, it is folly (and I believe has been one of Radley’s misconceptions) to believe they will allow the messy business of civil liberties to get in the way of expanding the power and reach of the state.

  17. #17 |  billy-jay | 

    @ JThompson:

    I don’t believe that Democrats are good for anything.

  18. #18 |  The Sotomayor Rorschach « Wintry Smile | 

    […] for some distressing facts, try Schumer Plays Up Sotomayor’s Authoritarianism.  I feel like as liberals, we’ve gotten so focused on the insanity of Republican complaints […]

  19. #19 |  The Sotomayor Freakout « Wintry Smile | 

    […] for some distressing facts, try Schumer Plays Up Sotomayor’s Authoritarianism.  I feel like as liberals, we’ve gotten so focused on the insanity of Republican complaints […]

  20. #20 |  Michael Chaney | 

    I actually have no issue with being “tough on crime”. I mean, real crime. Same with victims’ rights. Again, I have no issue with that. I think it’s great that victims get to face the criminals in court and let them know what they’ve done. It’s easy to abstract this away and call a crime by a simple name, but real people are affected in real ways.

    Here’s where the normal law and order crowd, who’s been cheering up to now, will break ranks:

    I believe that criminals in uniform or who have a title like “DA” should be treated the “toughest”, if you will. See, law and order *starts* with non-corrupt law enforcement and prosecution. If those elements are criminal, there is no law and order.

  21. #21 |  JThompson | 

    @billy: No, they pretty much aren’t. Neither are republicans. That was kinda my point. It’s just about impossible to tell the difference.

  22. #22 |  dave smith | 

    I have no problem with a justice system that is “tough on crime.” But let’s just make absolutly sure those we are tough on are criminals (real criminals) first.

  23. #23 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    In this lefty’s opinion, there’s no bigger scumbag in the U.S. Senate than Schumer. A couple of ties for the dishonor, mind you — Lieberman, Landrieu, and the Nelson twins to name a few — but none bigger.

  24. #24 |  billy-jay | 

    @JThompson (21):

    Yeah. I know, man.

  25. #25 |  scott in phx az | 

    besides all that – the woman is stupid.

    listening to her is almost painfull.

    what an embarrassisng legacy for the Obama administration.

  26. #26 |  Pat | 

    The rule of law means to be ruled by laws not by the prejudices of men and women.

    Most everyone agrees that the American criminal justice system is broken and that there is plenty wrong with it. Particularly the imbalance in favor of the prosecution in both the courts and legislatures that has given America a world record prison population.

    Any objective jurists should be able to find plenty wrong with this system. Sotomayor sided with the prosecution 92% of the time. A clear bias for her career friends, the prosecution. When any jurist finds so consistently for their prejudices and identity group they are using the law to impose the will of their group. This is not justice. This is no longer the rule of law.

  27. #27 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Pat, for your further education, please read John Hasnas, “The Myth of the Rule of Law.”

    In it you will discover that there is no such thing as objective law. Laws are not self-interpreting, they require interpretation by human beings who always carry idiosyncratic subjective viewpoints.

    The result is a system that Dave Krueger has described, one where only a certain type of individual rises to a position of power, shaped by the system and its primary need of self-preservation, which trumps all other considerations.

    Reforming the current force-based system is hopeless. Substantial change can only come through abolition of this system and the founding of a new system based on cooperation, not force.

  28. #28 |  seeker6079 | 

    It goes to show one just how batshit the conservative movement has become in America when a judge this conservative — and this depressing to liberals and progressives — is seen by the right as some kind of wild-eyed Marat.

    Not that they’d who know WhoTF Marat was. That would involve reading and thinking and the American right gave that up a long, long, long time ago.

  29. #29 |  Andrew Williams | 

    Schumer is a tool. A casual viewing of his “questioning” of the ATF’s action @ Waco will confirm that.

  30. #30 |  Ed Dunkle | 

    Has a public defender ever made it to the Supreme Court? I’d love to see that some day.

  31. #31 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #26 Pat

    Most everyone agrees that the American criminal justice system is broken and that there is plenty wrong with it. Particularly the imbalance in favor of the prosecution in both the courts and legislatures that has given America a world record prison population.

    Actually, I don’t know that most people would agree that the criminal justice system is broken, but if so, I don’t think they would acknowledge an imbalance in favor of the prosecution. I think the more popular public opinion is that the justice system grants too many rights to the accused and not enough to the victims.

    Of course, there’s the chicken and egg question. Is the justice system simply a reflection of the attitude of the public or is the public attitude a reflection of rhetoric coming from the justice system? I tend to think they kind of feed each other which doesn’t bode well for any hopes of improvement in the near term.

  32. #32 |  Pat | 

    #31 | Dave Krueger |

    While loud mouthed authoritarians may agree that the criminal justice system is not a problem saner voices are starting to be heard. Virginia Sen. Jim Webb has authored S-714 to establish a national criminal justice commission to evaluate the efficacy of a system that results in the world record prison population in the land of the free.

    Numerous criminal justice and human rights reports each year attest to the failed American criminal justice system.

  33. #33 |  Pat | 

    #27 | Cynical in CA

    I don’t need to read a book when I can see authoritarianism in action every day by simply watching the collusion of the Democrat and Republican leadership.

    The constitutional ideal is to achieve objective justice. Reality dictates that I work with that ideal since tearing down the system is unrealistic and a cop-out.

  34. #34 |  Pat | 

    The Democrats are in the pocket of the rich and aggressive police and prison guard unions.

    The Republicans are in the pocket of the rich and ruthless police and prison industry complex.

    That leaves almost no one in power in America defending justice.

  35. #35 |  Supreme Court Says Warrant Required for GPS Tracking (See correction below) | The Agitator | 

    […] think it’s probably time for me to concede that I was wrong about Sotomayor. (See here, here, here, and here.) Not only has she not been a liability in criminal justice cases, you could make a […]