"Why, oh why can’t we have a better press corps?" — Brad DeLong et al.
After the White House yesterday declared open season on its Supreme Court nominee, who could have predicted that the New York Times would use its front page to run a hit piece on Sonia Sotomayor masquerading as news? Reporter David Kirkpatrick doesn’t seem to have a problem with this abuse of journalism, and his editors help him along with the title, A Judge’s Focus on Race Issues May Be Hurdle.
Justice Sotomayor has had to deal all her life with unfair racial/ethnic discrimination, often in forms that violate the Constitution and numerous statutes. So one would naturally expect that, like any self-respecting human being, she would have supported/participated in groups trying to end illegal discrimination once she became an attorney. Good for her. But the Times spins this as Sotomayor spending her whole life looking for opportunities to make "race-based" decisions:
The selection of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court has opened a new battle in the fight over affirmative action and other race-conscious remedies for patterns of inequality, with each side invoking the election of the first black president in support of its cause.
Judge Sotomayor, whose parents moved to New York from Puerto Rico, has championed the importance of considering race and ethnicity in admissions, hiring and even judicial selection at almost every stage of her career — as a student activist at Princeton and at Yale Law School, as a board member of left-leaning Hispanic advocacy groups and as a federal judge arguing for diversity on the bench.
Now conservatives say her strong identification with such race-based approaches to the law is perhaps the strongest argument against her confirmation, contending that her views put her outside an evolving consensus that such race-conscious public policy is growing obsolete.
In my dead-tree version, the rest of the front page portion of this hit piece consists of quotes from John Cornyn and Gary Marx, a right-wing hack, about how it’s wrong for Sotomayor to make "race-conscious decisions across the board." Marx is later quoted as saying Sotomayor’s decisions "brought racial quotas back as a national issue," but the Times does nothing to refute this misrepresentation of the cited Ricci vs New Haven case. Any real facts about her struggles to overcome disadantages are buried on page 8, where we also see three pictures:
(1) A large photo of Sotomayor leaving a building, but the caption is: "Conservatives say Judge Sonio Sotomayor’s race-based approach to the law is grounds for her to not be a Supreme Court justice." Got that? The NYT times says it’s a fact that she uses a "race-based approach," which conservatives think disqualifies her.
(2) A photo of Cornyn, with the quote, "’Justice should be colorblind, said Senator John Cornyn," which implies that Sotomayor thinks otherwise.
(3) A photo of Lani Guinier, with the note that "The 1993 nomination of Lani Guinier, center, to a top Justice post was withdrawn over her writings on minority hiring." The article goes on to equate Sotomayor with Guinier, though I suspect the only similarity is that both women were smeared by conservatives with the media’s help.
It’s only when you get towards the end of the hit piece that you find facts showing these insinuations are gibberish and that all she’s done is bust her butt to overcome disadvantages and discrimination and help organizations who fight to uphold the laws of the land that make racial and ethnic discrimination illegal. But the NYT never explains it that way. She wasn’t upholding our laws; instead the Times implies the Justice has been disingenous, as in this wording:
Judge Sotomayor is not known to have identified herself as a beneficiary of affirmative action, . . .
Given the few facts the NYT includes, it would have been accurate to say she "has never been a beneficiary of affirmative action," but that would undermine the desired slant of this despicable hit piece.
Why, oh why can’t we have a better press corps?
More: An actual legal analysis of her decisions? See SCOTUSBLOG, Judge Sotomayor and Race. On the 50 most recent discrimination-related decisions:
In those 50 cases, the panel accepted the claim of race discrimination only three times. In all three cases, the panel was unanimous; in all three, it included a Republican appointee. In roughly 45, the claim was rejected. (Two were procedural dispositions.)
On the other hand, she twice was on panels reversing district court decisions agreeing with race-related claims – i.e., reversing a finding of impermissible race-based decisions. Both were criminal cases involving jury selection.
In the 50 cases, the panel was unanimous in every one. There was a Republican appointee in 38, and these panels were all obviously unanimous as well. Thus, in the roughly 45 panel opinions rejecting claims of discrimination, Judge Sotomayor never dissented.
It seems to me that these numbers decisively disprove the claim that she decides cases with any sort of racial bias.
Update II: The Times "news" section can’t seem to stop discrediting itself. In another hit on Sotomayor for the sin of being an Hispanic woman with roots in Puerto Rico, Times Reporter Peter Baker "reports" on how her nomination has brought out long dormant issues of ethnicity, with the editors adding the title, Court Pick Pushes Politics of Identity Back to Forefront. This is news? When has the appointment of a non-white/anglo or woman not raised such claims from those who can’t deal with it?
Of course, Baker’s story line is absolute gibberish unless you start with the Time’s unspoken assumption that "white" or "anglo" is not ethnic — it’s the norm and everything else if different — and that routinely selecting white/anglo/male candidates for hundreds of years had nothing to do with "identity politics." Once you’ve swallowed that whopper from the Times’ white/anglo males, it logically follows that any non-white/non-anglo/woman appointment raises the "politics of identity."
Perhaps the entire group of Times’ editors and white/anglo reporters should be required to attend the kind of mandatory training most corporations and government agencies go through to remind their employees not to say really stupid things about people who they insist are just not like them.
Update III. the NYT’s Adam Liptak provides a more helpful framework.