Everything But The Kitchen Sink: The Right
Goes All Out To Smear And Destroy Obama's Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor
hyperlinked to sources. For all
sources, see the data
Your sources today include: the New
York Times, mediamatters.org, CNN, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial
Times, scotusblog.com, the Nation magazine, commondreams.org, the Associated
Press, the websites of the organizations La Raza and Latino Justice,
dictionary.law.com, 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.
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
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.
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
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
So then it must have been that
terrible lib, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, right?
Not even close.
You know who uttered these words at
his confirmation hearing?
Sam Alito, right-winger
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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,.
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
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
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:
Shows Rulings Within Liberal Mainstream
Despite Democratic Bent,
Judge Has Sided With Corporate Defendants
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?
on that toward the end of the show.
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
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
judicial equivalent of saying the sun rises each morning" and
"thoroughly uncontroversial to anyone other than a determined
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
Senator Kit Bond of Missouri said of
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.
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
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
--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
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
bigot, anti-white, racist, anti-constitutionalist, affirmative action nominee,
the most divisive nominee possible.
But the award goes to this gentleman:
It is Marxism. She is a
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:
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
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
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
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
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
[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.
Here's something more plausible.
CNN Senior Political Analyst Gloria
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
Let's sum up what you've heard here
--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
--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
--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,"
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.