federal courts supreme court

“Stilted” and “wooden,” “uninspiring” and “misleading.”

Insulting ways to describe anyone, for sure. But when you put them in context, it only gets worse: Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras – President Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit – used them to disparage United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor after her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And he didn’t stop there. He also said he totally agreed with fellow panelists taking part in an ultraconservative Federalist Society online debate who called the hearing a “disgrace” and Sotomayor a “dull mediocrity.”

Wait, what?

Yeah, you read that right. In a Federalist Society online debate, Stras and other panelists discussed Sotomayor’s record and nomination hearing. In the debate, Stras writes that “[President] Obama could have done much better” when he nominated Sotomayor, criticized her testimony as “often stilted and wooden,” and even claimed her answers were “often uninspiring and even misleading at times.”

Stras also chimed in to agree with two other pundits: Wendy Long and Matthew Franck. Long claimed the hearings were a “disgrace,” speculated that Sotomayor misrepresented “under oath, not just her own theoretical views about the enterprise of judging, but also more concrete matters,” and went after Sotomayor’s explanation of her view of judicial restraint as “embarrassingly reductionist.” Franck went after Sotomayor personally, stating that she “came across as, at best, a dull mediocrity.” Stras then quickly added, “it is sufficient to say that I agree completely with Wendy and Matt.”

That’s messed up.

Yep. Especially when you remember that one of President Obama’s judicial nominees took WAY more heat from Republicans for remarks that were WAY less harsh than this. During the Obama presidency, federal judicial nominee Goodwin Liu raised some real Republican ire when he questioned whether Justice Samuel Alito would apply the law in a “mechanical way abstracted from human experience” and ignore concerns about discrimination. Senator Mike Lee blasted Liu, calling his comments “a misleading and unwarranted personal attack on a dedicated public servant.” Senator John Cornyn said the comments called into question whether Liu had “the sort of temperament” necessary to be a judge.

All in all, a far bigger reaction to far less insulting statements.

So what’s the takeaway?

As the first Latina Supreme Court Justice and only the third female Supreme Court Justice, Sotomayor is far from “uninspiring.” It’s okay to respectfully disagree with a judge’s – even a Supreme Court Justice’s – judicial philosophy. But Stras’s insults are different: they’re offensive and personally demeaning. And we deserve better from people who want a lifetime seat on the federal bench.

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