Well, Who Is Sonia Sotomayor? And Why Do We Care?

Jun 1, 09 | 9:01 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Among the most faceless people at the highest reaches of the US government are the nine Supreme Court justices. This is because they have lifetime tenure and don’t have to court the public; because they generally avoid the media (because of tradition and because of poor media skills); and because they’ve all spent their careers as lawyers, a profession which tends to dim your personality.

Professionally, too, they tend not to distinguish themselves. Seldom does the Court do anything truly surprising. Only on the rarest of occasions does a justice change or even moderate his or her generally predictable views.

So why do we lavish all this attention on Supreme Court nominees? What do we hope to learn?

Partly, it is because there are two professionally opposed and passionate sides who each want to brand this unknown person. Sonia Sotomayor is an angry ethnic; Sotomayor is a humble example of nose-to-the-grindstone virtue. Or, Sotomayor is a bitch; or, Sotomayor is an independent woman.

And partly, it is because, in a media world, we believe that people who have the media’s attention must be worthy of it. If most people in public life turned out to be boring and to signify nothing, there would be hardly any point in having the media.

Prior to Sotomayor’s nomination, there was some suggestion that the president should select someone other than a sitting federal court judge. We’d likely get far more interesting, colorful, and unpredictable people if they were selected from a wider pool of public figures—people who, because they were worldly successes, might have a greater impact on the court. But that is, of course, the point. Neither Congress nor the White House benefits from a court with interesting personalities.

Indeed, the entire point of this process, whether it’s the Republicans or Democrats in opposition, is to put a premium on dullness, lack of originality, and predictability.

Sonia Sotomayor is, by all logic, not the fiery and/or noble person portrayed by either side of this nomination debate. As a federal judge, she is, likely, someone with the right amount of party loyalty, a civil servant mentality, an uninspired intellect, a taste for security (however low the pay), and a tolerance, sitting through the daily litigation grind, for mind-numbing detail. Even among federal judges, Supreme Court nominees tend to be those whose opinions are among the least eloquent, passionate, and interesting.

Sonia Sotomayor may be a woman, a Puerto Rican, a liberal, and whatever else might be adduced, imputed, or insinuated, but most of all she is—and this is what she is being rewarded for—a hack.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at
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