I have conflicting thoughts on Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's first Supreme Court nominee, so my remarks will be split into two separate posts.
Of those rumored to be on the alleged "short list," I had actually most hoped for Sotomayor, perhaps simply as the best of an unsatisfactory lot. She, of course, was originally appointed to the federal bench in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush, and eleven years ago, was appointed to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals by President Clinton.
While I have heard many conservative talking points against her appointment, I have not actually heard of a case that came before her either as a district court judge or a member of the 2nd Circuit panel that bears upon her fitness for the Supreme Court. If a reader has a citation to a particular case in which Judge Sotomayor wrote a particularly disturbing (or even just poorly reasoned) opinion, I invite you to leave the such in the comments section.
I believe that the president's bleeding-heart judicial philosophy, which clearly begat this appointment, is inherently flawed. His recent statement -- in which he claimed an ideal candidate demonstrates "empathy" and is willing "to protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process" -- is flat-out wrong. Obama is terrific with wordplay, but he often leaves many questions unanswered; and here, the question for him to answer is, "Sir, what exactly are you talking about?"
The president is dancing around his affinity for affirmative action and, generally, the allegedly downtrodden.
I do not care if a Supreme Court justice has a heart. I do not care if he or she is empathetic, no more than I care whether he or she enjoys chocolate ice cream. When a case reaches the appellate level of the federal court system, the job of a the trier of fact is not to pat litigants on the head and craft opinions laced with kind, empathetic statements. It is to review the record before him or her, interpret the governing law, and hand down his or her decision in an unbiased manner. Whether a judge understands "how ordinary people live," as the president also recently said, is completely irrelevant. Regardless of whether a judge hails from a mansion in the Hamptons or Sarah Palin's "real America," all he or she must understand is 1) the law and 2) the facts of the case at bar.
Additionally, the notion -- apparently advanced in an article written some years ago by Sotomayor herself -- that Sotomayor is somehow better-suited to sit on the Supreme Court because she is a woman, and is Latino, is rather insulting. I don't know that I'd disagree that with respect to cases of discrimination only, someone who has actually been the subject of workplace or social discrimination him- or herself would be particularly suited to rule on, say, damages sustained as a result of the discrimination. In certain, very limited contexts, perhaps there is a degree of truth to such a statement. However, in theory, when one sits as an allegedly impartial trier of fact, what matters is only one's ability to grasp legal issues and the facts contained in the record on appeal.
There is a reason that Lady Justice wears a blindfold.