Transcript #151

Everything But The Kitchen Sink: The Right Goes All Out To Smear And Destroy Obama's Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor


Partially hyperlinked to sources.  For all sources, see the data resources page.


Your sources today include: the New York Times,, CNN, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times,, the Nation magazine,, the Associated Press, the websites of the organizations La Raza and Latino Justice,, and the Chicago Sun-Times.


In the next half hour or so, you'll hear all about the right's smear campaign against Sonia Sotomayor.  I'll debunk each one of their talking points for you.


This won't just be relevant for the Sotomayor and future Supreme Court confirmation hearings, or even just for confirmation hearings in general.


No, any time a right-winger is attacking a person they use similar tactics.  So I'll categorize the propaganda techniques as I tell you about them, to make them more recognizable the next time you encounter them.


And encounter them you will, of that you can be assured.


Probably the biggest manufactured controversy is over this statement  by Judge Sotomayor, made during a lecture in 2001:


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.

She's made similar statements at least twice in the past.


The propaganda method being used here is, taking something out of context.


Now, even as a bald naked statement in isolation, what's the big deal?  She didn't say all Latina women always reach better conclusions than all white males.  That would be prejudiced.  And stupid.


No, she contrasted a wise Latina woman who has had rich experiences, with a white male who hasn't lived that life, in other words, who hasn't had rich experiences.


Makes perfect sense to me, that a wise person with rich experiences will reach better conclusions than a non-wise person without rich experiences.


But we needn't parse her language so finely, because this wasn't a random thought that popped out suddenly while she was speaking.  Context here is everything.  Everything the right will never mention.


Judge Sotomayor was discussing race and gender discrimination, and judging such cases.  Her position is that someone who has faced discrimination, might be able to come to a better decision about discrimination issues in a discrimination case.


Well, again, sort of common sense.  If you've been in a situation, you have first hand experience about it.


In fact, listen to this additional quote:


[W]hen a case comes before me involving, let's say, someone who is an immigrant -- and we get an awful lot of immigration cases and naturalization cases -- I can't help but think of my own ancestors, because it wasn't that long ago when they were in that position. 


[W]hen I look at those cases, I have to say to myself, and I do say to myself, "You know, this could be your grandfather, this could be your grandmother. They were not citizens at one time, and they were people who came to this country." 


When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.

Another Sotomayor statement?


It does sound like her, but no, this was a prior Supreme Court nominee addressing the Senate panel during confirmation hearings.


So then it must have been that terrible lib, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, right?


No.  Not even close.


You know who uttered these words at his confirmation hearing?


Sam Alito, right-winger extraordinaire!


So I'll ask all right-wingers, especially Senators who were around during the Alito confirmation hearings, why didn't you create an uproar then about Alito's outrageous statement?


More importantly, my right-wing friends, now that you know about the way Alito thinks, I assume you're going to undertake an "Alito Resign Now" campaign.  Why, he could favor illegal Mexicans, what with his pro immigrant attitude.  Hey, Lou Dobbs, Tom Tancredo and Pat Buchanan, get on the stick here!


And what about this?  During Clarence Thomas's confirmation hearings, he replied in part, when asked why he wanted the job:


I believe, Senator, that I can make a contribution, that I can bring something different to the Court, that I can walk in the shoes of the people who are affected by what the Court does.

Maybe better make that a joint "Alito/Thomas Resign Now" campaign.


In a moment, another major right-wing talking point:  Sonia Sotomayor has radical views.  Oh yeah?  Stay tuned.






Against all available evidence, the right is trying to paint Judge Sotomayor as a dangerous radical unfit to be elevated to the Supreme Court.


This propaganda method is called making something up out of whole cloth.  The Big Lie technique.


A major component of the "she's a radical" campaign is the so-called Ricci case.  Judge Sotomayor and her fellow Second Circuit Court of Appeals judges ruled in favor of the City of New Haven.  New Haven had thrown out a firefighters promotional exam and didn't promote anyone, when no African-Americans passed the test.


Right-wing columnist Thomas Sowell claimed that


Diversity was Judge Sotomayor's rationale for going along with the denial of equal rights for white firefighters in Connecticut.

Newt Gingrich said just the other day that Judge Sotomayor decided the case the way she did "for clearly racial quota reasons."


Ooh, she's going to infect the Supreme Court with her way out ideas.


The fact is, the appeals court said it was compelled to rule as it did by Second Circuit precedent.


And as further ably elucidated by Glen Greenwald:


[T]he idea that her decision in Ricci demonstrates some sort of radicalism -- when she was simply affirming the decision of a federal district judge, was part of a unanimous circuit panel in doing so, was supported by a majority of her fellow Circuit judges who refused to re-hear the case, and will, by all accounts, have at least several current Supreme Court Justices side with her -- is frivolous on its face.

Frivolous?  That could be the right's middle name.


Another part of the "watch out, she's a radical!" campaign is the false claim that Judge Sotomayor has an unusually high number of her decisions overturned by the Supreme Court.  Wrong.  Her reversal rate is consistent with the overall Supreme Court reversal rate of lower court rulings.


Let's cut to the chase.  President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor on May 26.  The very next day, the British equivalent of the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, editorialized:


Ms Sotomayor is no radical: almost half of the Republican senators still in office voted to confirm her for the appeals court in 1998. As the putative successor to the moderate Justice David Souter, she will not alter the political chemistry of the court.

Yet that accurate assessment didn't stop the onslaught of disinformation and outright lies that I've told you about so far, and will continue to debunk as we go along here.


Let's go over some reasons, beyond what you've already heard, why a conservative -- and in this case honest -- institution like the Financial Times could conclude that Sotomayor is no radical,.


The Los Angles Times analyzed all her cases that dealt with race.  So did the well-respected Scotusblog.   Both reached the same conclusion.  As Scotusblog put it:


Judge Sotomayor has participated in roughly 100 panel decisions involving questions of race and has disagreed with her colleagues in those cases (a fair measure of whether she is an outlier) a total of 4 times. 

On crime issues, Judge Sotomayor cut her teeth as a no-nonsense tough prosecutor, who took on a child porn case no one else would.  As a judge, she's ruled most often in favor of the prosecution.  The Wall Street journal reported that she's actually to the right of Justice Souter on some criminal law issues.


On business matters, again, no radical at all:


"She toes the line in terms of following what the law is, and in that respect [her opinions] come out as more pro-government," said Ellen S. Podgor, a law professor at Stetson University who has reviewed about 100 of Sotomayor's appellate rulings in white-collar cases. 

The Wall Street Journal quoted one corporate lawyer as approvingly stating "There is no reason for the business community to be concerned."  Another attorney said "in securities litigation, she is in the judicial mainstream."


Indeed, just like its ideological sister in Great Britain, the Wall Street Journal also ran a "she's no radical" story the day after Obama's nomination of Judge Sotomayor.  The headline was:


Record Shows Rulings Within Liberal Mainstream

Despite Democratic Bent, Judge Has Sided With Corporate Defendants

In fact, as you're listening to all this, you may be wondering, if she's actually so mainstream, should we progressives even be happy with her?


More on that toward the end of the show.


Up directly next, you'll hear some more unfounded right-wing talking points about Judge Sonia Sotomayor.  Stick around.






Often the right will employ a propaganda method I call, "depend on listener ignorance."  A claim that anyone with any knowledge of an area knows is false, is make with the assumption that the general public has little knowledge of the area, and will therefore believe the claim.


In a forum Judge Sotomayor said that the "court of appeals is where policy is made."   You may have heard this clip being recycled endlessly on right-wing cable and radio.


Right-wingers have been jumping and down frantically, screaming that she wants to legislate from the bench.


But the context was, she was explaining the difference between district courts, where trials are held, and appeals courts, which review trial court decisions.  Appeals courts decide the correct interpretation and application of statutes.  Appeals court decisions thus set precedents which govern all the district courts below them.  Hence "policy."  That's what Judge Sotomayor was explaining at the forum.


Any first year law student would laugh at the controversy.  In law school you study what is called case law, precisely those judicial decisions where precedents are established regarding the interpretation and application of statutes.


Hofstra University law professor Eric Freedman nicely put it, saying that Judge Sotomayor's remark was


"the absolute judicial equivalent of saying the sun rises each morning" and "thoroughly uncontroversial to anyone other than a determined demagogue."

Well, we do have determined demagogues among us, don't we?



Another right-wing propaganda method is unwarranted mockery, sometimes even of a position that they or their colleagues have themselves expressed in the past.


In the Sotomayor situation, this would involve the terms "empathy" and "compassion."  After Judge Souter resigned, President Obama said of the replacement he would seek:


I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.

This has horrified the right.  Empathy has no place in a judge's decision making process. 




I guess the first President Bush hadn't gotten the talking points, since he spoke of Clarence Thomas' "great empathy" as a positive attribute in a Supreme Court justice.


Many Republicans have expressed similar sentiments.


Senator Kit Bond of Missouri said of Thomas:


Though his skills as a lawyer and a judge are obvious, they are not, in my view, the only reason that this committee should vote to approve Judge Thomas's nomination. Just as important is his compassion and understanding of the impact that the Supreme Court has on the lives of average Americans.

Southern arch-conservative Sen. Strom Thurmond said compassion was one of the "special qualifications I believe an individual should possess to serve on the Supreme Court."


Former Ohio Senator Mike DeWine said at the confirmation hearing of Chief Justice John Roberts:


We need you to bring to the court your compassion and your understanding for the lives of others who haven't been as successful as you have been.

One more:


Former New York Senator Alfonse D'Amato actually praised Sonia Sotomayor's "compassion" when supporting her nomination to the appeals court.


And of course, what the right doesn't tell you, is that immediately after speaking of empathy, Obama went on to say that his nominee would at the same time be someone


who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role.

The right somehow forgets that part of Obama's statement.



Here's one more right-wing propaganda method: smear an organization people aren't familiar with, and then "reveal" that the person the right wants to attack, is affiliated with this horrible group.


For example, Tom Tancredo is a former Republican congressman.  He has bitterly complained about Sonia Sotomayor's association with the Hispanic advocacy group the National Council of La Raza. 


Tancredo went so far as to brand it a "Latino K.K.K.".


How disgusting a comparison.  The Klan preaches hatred and has tortured and murdered people. 


Even milder right-wing smears you may hear against La Raza are wrong.  I don't have time to get into them here -- you can check out the details in the transcript links -- but in short:


--The term La Raza in the group's name means community, not race

--La Raza does not support separatist organizations

--La Raza does not support so-called reconquista, or segregation, and

--La Raza programs are not limited to helping just Hispanics


La Raza is so radical that John McCain spoke to their convention in 2008, and said:


I believe I'm the only member of the Senate to have twice won your Congressional Leadership Award, a distinction I am also very proud of.

A Latino K.K.K.?!


Judge Sotomayor also served on the board of another group called Latino Justice PRLDEF.  Somewhat bizarrely, while no right-wingers were using this to attack her, the New York Times ran an article suggesting that they might well do so in the future. 


In case they do, all  you need to point out is that others on the board of this group have included  United States


Attorney General Nicholas…Katzenbach, [New York] Senator Jacob K. Javits, Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel, [New York] District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, [and] New York State attorney general Robert Abrams.

Quite a bunch of radicals, huh?


Ok, in the upcoming closing segment, I've saved maybe the best for last.  You'll hear a truly unhinged right-winger make an absolute jackass of himself.  See you in a minute.






A final right-wing propaganda method is plain-old name-calling --  dehumanizing, demonizing your opponent.


In addition to being called a radical, some of the other names Judge Sotomayor has been called by right-wing commentators include bigot, anti-white, racist, anti-constitutionalist, affirmative action nominee, the most divisive nominee possible.


But the award goes to this gentleman:


audio: Glenn Beck

Marxism.  It is Marxism.  She is a Marxist…

How many Marxists do we have to turn up before we say our country is being taken over?  This is a hostile takeover!

He's also said:


audio: Glenn Beck

BECK: I think the woman is not so bright.  From what I have heard from people who have worked around her, worked with her—

GUEST: That is definitely the vibe.

BECK: Yeah, she is not that bright, and she is a divisive individual

This is radio and cable talk show host Glenn Beck.  Beck has apparently applied his deep knowledge and finely honed analytical skills and determined that Judge Sonia Sotomayor is a Marxist, and not too bright a one at that.




Certainly qualified to make such judgments, that would be, Glenn Beck, PhD., in -- nothing.


Well, certainly at least, Glenn Beck, Masters degree in -- nothing again.


Glenn Beck, Bachelor's degree in something? 


Uh, uh.


Two year community college?




Glenn Beck's level of educational achievement ended with high school.


As far as I can tell from his online biography, Beck graduated high school, started working as a music DJ, turned into an alcoholic and drug addict, and then after sobering up, became a talk show host.


He's certainly well-qualified to evaluate the legal rulings and intelligence level of Sonia Sotomayor, a woman who graduated with honors from Princeton, went on to Yale Law School and then to serve for the past 11 years as a federal appeals court judge on the prestigious Second Circuit.


Marxist?  They don't teach about Karl Marx in high school.  Does Beck even know what a Marxist is?  He probably thinks Karl Marx was some uncle of Groucho who was a liberal activist or something.


Judge Sotomayor's most famous ruling was when she sided with the players and ended the epic 1995 baseball strike.


Look for Beck to next complain that by siding with the workers -- the players -- against the owners, she was trying to destroy the American pastime.  All as part of her Marxist hostile takeover of the United States, no doubt.


Permit me this brief, somewhat uncharacteristic for Blast The Right, ad hominem attack.  This guy really deserves it.


Have you ever seen Beck?  Take a good look at his face, stare into his eyes, if you can stomach it.  Does the term village idiot come to mind?  Beck has the gravitas of, oh, I don't know, Curly Joe DeRita.  Who's Curly Joe DeRita?  He replaced the original Curly in The Three Stooges.


Not even the gravitas of the original Curly, but only of his replacement.


What’s truly scary is, Beck has the 3rd highest rated radio talk show, and his Fox News cable show is a runaway hit.


Can you imagine how ignorant, how absolutely brain-dead his fans are?



Ok, back to sober analysis:


What's Obama doing here with this Sonia Sotomayor nomination?


The Financial Times wrote:


Mr. Obama is forgoing an opportunity afforded him by a near filibuster-proof majority: to force through a candidate who could push the boundaries of legal doctrine and give intellectual leadership to the court’s liberal wing. Instead of a counterweight to the conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, the president opted for what he calls Ms. Sotomayor’s “empathy” – her sensitivity to the consequences of court decisions for ordinary people.

Perhaps what the Financial Times notes approvingly, is our lament 


But then, a former Clinton administration official says we don't want an activist court:


Walter Dellinger, who was acting solicitor general under Mr. Clinton, said liberals might be wrong to hope for a repeat of the activism of Chief Justice Earl Warren, whose court outlawed segregation, established privacy rights and broadened due process protections for defendants.  

[He said] “The Warren court heroically took on entrenched systems that were utterly inconsistent with constitutional equality and fairness.  But that is history. It is not clear that progressive values will best be served in the future by judicial activism.” 

Personally, I don't buy that.  Do you?


Here's something more plausible.


CNN Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger blogged that Obama wasn't looking for a counterweight to Scalia:


Contrary to conventional wisdom, President Obama was not looking for someone to balance the more flamboyant conservative firepower of Justice Antonin Scalia, according to one senior administration official involved in the process …

He was looking for someone with the ability to win over Justice Anthony Kennedy, the crucial swing vote.

"[Obama] was very struck, when he met with her, about how thoughtful she was as a judge," says the source. "He believed she had a precise approach to cases that would be effective in winning over Kennedy when possible."

Could be, could be.  Time will tell.


I'd have personally much preferred a progressive fire-breathing dragon.  How about you?



Let's sum up what you've heard here today:


--Judge Sotomayor's "wise Latina woman with rich experience" comment was made in the context of judging discrimination cases, and is similar to comments by right-wing Justices Alito and Thomas


--Judge Sotomayor's court rulings, including the Ricci case, are mainstream, in the areas of race, business and crime, as even the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times admit


--her Supreme Court reversal rate is consistent with other judges


--her "appeals courts make policy" statement is something first year law school students learn, since appeals courts set precedents that other courts must follow concerning the interpretation and application of statutes


--President Obama's statement about "empathy" being an important characteristic for a Supreme Court judge is exactly what the first President Bush and several Republican Senators have said, and


--groups Judge Sotomayor has associated with, like La Raza and Latino Justice, are mainstream, not radical



I'll close on this, one point that Gloria Borger's administration official definitely got right:


This source points to her "huge paper trail," and says that's what the hearings should be about. "Efforts to try and turn her into something she's not will backfire," he says.

Newt Gingrich has already started to backpedal on his most outrageous anti-Sotomayor accusations, compelled, one would assume, by the push back from GOP leaders like Texas Senator John Cornyn.  Republican elected officials are undoubtedly concerned if not for the truth, then certainly about the political blowback that would result from wild, unsubstantiated attacks on an Hispanic nominee.


Let's you and I get out there and continue the counter-attack, and keep pushing back the right further than they've ever been pushed before.




Podcast Home Page